FÚTBOL IN ARGENTINA: CELEBRATING SUCCESS RATHER THAN FAILURE

By Jacob Poore
Contributing Writer

Thousands poured into the Plaza San Martín in Buenos Aires, Argentina hours before the start of the World Cup Final. Argentina came into the tournament with high expectations, especially with a weak group that included Iran, Nigeria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, none of which are known for their soccer success. Spirits were high before the match, especially after close victories over Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands in the knockout stages. Plaza San Martín, named after General San Martín who liberated Argentina, Chile and Peru from Spanish rule, has been the place to be for Argentines and tourists alike during Argentina’s World Cup matches. The Plaza, located in the center of one of the world’s most beautiful capital cities, had a large screen that can be viewed by thousands at a time and provided an environment like no other. Leading up to the entrance to the viewing area, fans were greeted by vendors looking to sell Argentina jerseys, pins, flags, hats, beanies and vuvuzelas. Fans lined up to have their faces painted for five pesos for an Argentine flag on each cheek (equivalent to $1.25).

Most fans were dressed in Argentina jerseys, many with the number 10 on the front and either the name Maradona or Messi on the back. There is a continuing narrative in sports media that Lionel Messi is not loved in Argentina. This is simply not true; Messi is adored by fans here, and they make it very clear. During Argentina’s semifinal game against the Netherlands, numerous fans yelled “un besito para ti Messi!”–a kiss for you, Messi. A popular soccer chant in Argentina and other Spanish speaking countries, “Olé, Olé, Olé” is instantly recognizable around the world. Argentine fans have affectionately changed the chant to “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Messi, Messi,” among other variations.

Similar to other sport viewing venues, fans at the Plaza had to go through a security check. During Argentina’s game against Switzerland in the Round of 16, security was thorough with bag checks, asking fans to move sweaters or other items so that they could see everything in the bag. However, the number of fans entering the Plaza for the final match was overwhelming, and security had a much more difficult time doing full bag checks. Then, fans were greeted by a different form of security: federal and city police in full riot gear, complete with guns and rubber bullets. The numerous fireworks and explosions from bottle rockets was a clear indication that security was not as thorough as it could have been, perhaps because they only checked bags, not sweaters or pockets.

Navigating the crowd was close to impossible, as fans staked out their claims for the best view of the large screen possible, a view that was often still obstructed by people in front of them. Many fans tried to get a better view of the screen by climbing a makeshift fence that separated the crowd from cameras and other equipment for outdoor viewing. This angered fans whose views were obstructed, and calls for people to get down–combined with an excessive amount of swearing–encouraged the climbers to simply knock down the fence, satisfying the rest of the crowd and themselves.

A trend in Argentina’s quest for World Cup victory was low-scoring, close games, in spite of expectations that Argentina would rely heavily on Messi, Angel Di Maria, and Sergio Agüero to outscore opponents for theoretically high-scoring games. In short, Argentina’s best defense was supposed to be its offense. Part of Argentina’s success came from its ability to control the ball, preventing its opponent from mounting a clear offensive attack. Also, though offense and possession was Argentina’s strength, Sergio “Chiquito” Romero, Argentina’s goalkeeper, proved to be a stabilizing defensive force and did not allow any goals from the Round of 16 match against Switzerland to the semifinal game against the Netherlands.

The match itself was intense and hard fought until the end. Both teams had numerous opportunities to score early in the game but none were converted. Early in the final against Germany, Argentina was not able to control the ball as much as it had in previous games. Plaza San Martín exploded when Argentina finally scored a goal, but after an offsides call fans quickly realized what happened and cursed the screen and anything else around them.

The crowd was extremely lively throughout the match. Argentines created numerous songs and chants to cheer on their team, the most notorious being “Brasil, decíme que se siente,” a song created specifically for this year’s World Cup. The song taunts Brazil, Argentina’s eternal rival, asking it how it feels to have its father in its own house, reopening old wounds such as when Argentina knocked Brazil out of the 1990 World Cup. It ends with the most powerful statement: “Maradona es más grande que Pelé,” stating that Diego Maradona, the hero of the 1986 World Cup, is better than Pelé, the Brazilian footballer who is regarded as the best player of all time. Another favorite was created after the semifinal win against the Netherlands. The crowd began jumping and chanting, roughly translated, “you have to jump, you have to jump, whoever doesn’t jump is German.”

Despite the energy and optimistic feeling entering the game, Germany’s goal with only six minutes left in the second extra time completely stunned and silenced the crowd. There was a ripple effect throughout the crowd, as people who could not see the screen well slowly swallowed what they were not able to see. There was not only a feeling of shock, but also disbelief. Argentina was only six minutes away from penalty kicks, where they defeated the Netherlands in dominating fashion in the previous round. During the tournament, Argentina had been a master at outlasting its opponent and scoring late to secure a victory. This time seemed to be no different, except Germany delivered a late heavy blow in the same way Argentina had to Switzerland and the Netherlands.

Even with the late goal, Argentine fans recovered their hope and began chanting once again, willing their team to a goal from over 1,500 miles away. With less than two minutes left, fans began accepting reality, applauding both their team for their effort and Germany for its victory. Though the presence of riot police was alarming, people filed out of the Plaza without incident, still smiling, clapping, dancing and singing as they made their way to Calle Florida, towards the Obelisco and the Plaza de Mayo. There was no violent or extremely disruptive behavior, other than more fireworks being launched into the sky. Argentines continued singing that Maradona is better than Pelé and waved flags all the way to the Obelisco, where the festivities continued into the late hours of the night.

The celebration, at least immediately after the game, was a refreshing break from recent unruly World Cup celebrations, most notably those in Huntington Park, California following Mexico’s matches. Later in the night, police moved in at the Obelisco to quell the celebrations that became increasingly dangerous, and more police were sent to the Plaza de la República in the early hours of the morning. At least one bar was broken into and robbed, and by 11:30, at least 40 people had been arrested and eight police officers were wounded. By the time police moved in, most people had cleared out of the area. The biggest incident was a group of 15 fans that broke an antenna off a television news station’s truck, prompting journalists to flee the vehicle.

Despite the violent actions from a small group of fans, Argentina celebrated its World Cup success rather than its failures. The World Cup is an extremely grueling test of both physical and mental abilities, and Argentina came incredibly close to winning it all, winning six games in a row before the crushing loss in the final. Argentine fans clearly appreciated their team’s success and made it known following the match. The vast majority of fans celebrated by dancing in the streets, honking car horns, and making sure that Brazil knows it will never forget the time its ‘father’ placed higher in its own home.

Photos by Jacob Poore

PLAYING HOST TO THE WORLD CUP: PROMISED LOCAL BENEFITS TAKE A DIVE?

By Andrew Muse-Fisher
Staff Writer

Over the next eight years, the world will watch as Brazil, Russia and Qatar respectively host the World Cup. Though the money and labor that goes into the preparation of the world’s most viewed sporting event is ultimately used as a show of the strength and vitality of these nations, the efforts of these nations have exposed the individual issues that hinder their establishment or re-establishment of a positive global image. And as this trio works to rid themselves of the domestic problems within their own borders, they are also working towards the goals of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association. A closer look into the relationships of the host governments with its people and with FIFA reveals how the spirit of the World Cup is being pushed out by the search for profit and growth at the expense of the citizens of these countries.

In June of this year, the World Cup will commence in the country with a history of zeal for the sport. Brazil, whose five World Cup wins are the most by any country, began preparing in 2007 after its bid to host was approved by FIFA.[1] Naturally, the Brazilians celebrated this opportunity to develop infrastructure, increase health and education and reduce poverty within the country, just as the government promised in its campaign to win the bid. [2] The government, too, saw potential to reinforce Brazil’s developing economy. After two decades of economic growth that allowed Brazil to develop a strong economy, it has done little to sustain continued growth. [3] Brazil has relied on increased internal consumption in recent years, while simultaneously losing prospective outside investors. [4] This has slowed economic growth and has created a need to draw attention from the outside world to their potential for further development and possible investment. [5]

It is hardly surprising that they pursued the 2014 bid, but since they started preparing, they have put their need to attract foreign investment and global recognition before the needs of the Brazilian people, especially those living in the favelas. During the initial planning stages in 2010, the costs of building and renovating stadiums was estimated to cost 5.4 billion Brazilian Reais, or $2.3 billion. However, by 2013, the cost reached BRL 8 billion– $3.4 billion. [6] The total cost of the Cup stood at BRL 25.6 billion, or $10.8 billion. Unfortunately for Brazilian taxpayers, investors will cover only 15% of the total cost. [7] These costs only cover the expenses of staging the cup, and do nothing to fund improvements to healthcare, education or the reduction of poverty as Brazil promised to do in its winning bid. [8] This places the burden of the Cup largely on the citizens of Brazil, while they are receiving very little of what they were promised at the outset. In some cases, the government’s actions have directly contradicted their pledge to share the benefits of the World Cup with all Brazilians.

Though the country has experienced growth in recent years, a large amount of the Brazilian population still lives in slums or favelas. In order to construct roads necessary to connect the host cities, some residents of favelas were evicted with little notice and their homes were then demolished to make way for the infrastructure. [9] To follow this, the government raised public transportation prices. In response, 1.5 million Brazilians protested outside the last game of the Confederation Cup, a small-scale version of the World Cup, in June 2013. [10] Initial protests centered on the destruction of favelas and the price hike; they soon grew to include calls for greater urban mobility, and investment in health and education. [11] The protestors were met with tear gas and rubber bullets, and two protestors died in the chaos. [12] Shortly thereafter, the government announced promises to increase spending on urban mobility, while several cities retracted the increased transportation prices. [13] Though the government acted quickly to pacify the protestors, the question remains on whether they will act on their promises or if the government is simply trying to calm down dissatisfied Brazilians until the World Cup passes. If some of the most avid soccer fans in the world are too busy protesting to cheer on their team and country, Brazil will have a difficult time attracting positive attention.

On top of the obstacles Brazil has faced in allocating funds, it also has had trouble meeting deadlines, especially in terms of stadium construction. Though twelve stadiums were supposed to be built or renovated completely by 2012 in order to meet FIFA regulations, three of the stadiums were still under construction at the beginning of 2014. [14] These last-minute preparations have done little to alleviate the atmosphere of chaos in Brazil. Regardless of the amount of progress Brazil has made in the time allotted, they still had to restructure regulations in order to cut corners and meet deadlines set by FIFA. [15] That is, early on in the process, Brazil passed legislation that allows them to ignore certain environmental regulations in construction, while their debt limit was raised. [16] Both of these shortcuts suggest long term problems if Brazil does not take action to reverse the environmental and economic effects these might incur once the games are over. In other words, by putting FIFA’s guidelines before the demands of the public, while simultaneously searching for the support of investors, Brazil is potentially wasting an opportunity to ensure a strong future for both the economy and its people.

Four years after having hosted the winter Olympic games in Sochi, Russia will host the 2018 World Cup. Russia won the bid on the grounds that they do not currently have the infrastructure in place to hold the games, but do have the economic resources to establish this infrastructure. The decision was further sealed by the fact that Russia has experience in planning an event on such a large scale, partly because of their preparations for Sochi. It is indeed a win-win for both FIFA and Russia in that FIFA can have confidence in Russia’s ability to prepare, while Russia will get the much needed opportunity to strengthen its infrastructure. [17] Currently, Russia is constructing high-speed rails to connect cities with stadiums. While the government is paying 70% of the cost for the rails, it sees it as an endeavor with great potential to help create jobs and help the economy overall. [18] Even if the railways are not going to pay for themselves, the government is confident it will help to better connect the country. [19]

In addition to stitching the country together, Russia is also hoping to boost GDP from tourism from 2% to 7%. [20] The World Cup is, of course, a perfect opportunity to augment their tourism industry, but it also provides another chance for Russia to brush off the remaining parts of its image reminiscent of its communist days. By further opening itself to the world’s view, it can portray itself as a modern democracy and not a backwards regime, an image from which Russia is trying distance itself. [21] So far, Russia’s 15 billion Euro venture is remaining more or less free of complications, at least when compared to Brazil’s effort. [22]

That is not to say, however, that Russia has remained free of the drama that is typical of these processes. Similar to the discussions of Russian homophobia that were hot button issues before Sochi, there have been accusations of racism within the Russian soccer fan base. Black players playing for and against Russian teams have been subjected to racist chants and banners from the crowd. [23] Manchester city player, Yaya Toure, has gone so far as to call a protest within potential participants against the Russian World Cup. [24] Though Russia has ample time to recover from such incidents of racism, a protest by high-profile players could be detrimental to the success of Russia’s Cup and all it is trying to achieve by hosting it. [25]

At the same time, Russia is dealing with allegations of corruption in regards to its bid for the World Cup. While the country has denied these accusations, they have opened themselves up to an investigation. [26] This investigation was hindered as Michael Garcia, a representative of the FIFA ethics department, was denied access to the country for unrelated reasons. [27] Though these allegations may just be standard procedure, they stand to show the potential for corruption in an event where there is so much to be gained. If Russia continues steadily on its course to the 2018 World Cup, the games should go off without any major snags, and ultimately help Russia’s economy and image as intended. Russia, however, is not new to accusations of corruption or misconduct so there are no guarantees it will be able to emerge unscathed in the court of world opinion.

Beyond the horizon of Brazil and Russia lies the Qatar World Cup. Like Brazil and Russia, Qatar sees the World Cup as a prospect for increased economic activity and as a way to show the world its strength as a developing nation. The latter is especially important for the tiny oil rich country, as they strive to make a name for themselves that Brazil and especially Russia earned years ago. [28] In order to guarantee a successful Cup, Qatar has allocated around $100 billion for the games. [29] Regardless of this large sum of money, the country has been quick to cut costs, particularly when it comes to labor. Qatar has recruited migrant workers from several South East Asian countries to work on stadiums and infrastructure projects. [30] During the summer of 2013, nearly one worker died per day. [31] If workers continue dying at this rate, then around four thousand workers will be dead before the games start. [32] These deaths are largely attributed to the high temperatures, and minimal access to water and food in some cases. [33] The workers are also subjected to cramped living conditions, and job mobility is almost nonexistent because of contracts the workers agreed to in order to work in Qatar. [34] Though the majority of workers report decent working conditions, these extreme cases cannot be ignored. [35] Labor groups outside and within Qatar have called for FIFA to push the Qatari government to amend labor laws to prevent further instances of abuse, though it ultimately comes down to the government’s discretion on whether or not to do so. [36]

Simultaneously, the U.S. Treasury Department has released accusations that former members of the Qatar Football Association may have ties to Al Qaeda and Hamas. [37] Others closely tied to the selection process have been accused of anti-Semitic speech. [38] Though these may be a political smear campaigns on behalf of the United States, they may also represent racial and ethnic tensions that might form a roadblock later on in Qatar’s preparations. [39] A more prevalent issue facing Qatar’s hold on the World Cup is the possibility of corruption in the bidding process. [40] The FBI is currently investigating whether or not a member of FIFA accepted money from a Qatari company in order to secure the bid for Qatar. [41] Between abuse of the labor force, possible links to terror and corruption, and the fact that the Qatar is relatively far off, it is conceivable that the bid might be revoked from Qatar. This holds especially true if the corruption allegations are found to be legitimate. Though it is the farthest away of the three World Cups to come, the Qatar World Cup is already encountering complications that make it stand out as the most worrisome. Indeed, it not only highlights internal issues that Qatar must deal with or ignore, but it also implies either a weakness or neglectful attitude that allows such abuse and scandal to occur under the umbrella of FIFA.

Brazil, Russia and Qatar are three very different nations, but each stand to receive similar gains by hosting the World Cup. In order to host the games effectively, they need infrastructure to sustain such large crowds and the development of infrastructure can act as a boost to their growth. And if they pull off the games successfully, then the trio will be able to show the world their strength in resources and organization. While the individual governments know what they want to gain from hosting the World Cup, their populations also have wants and expectations from the process. Unfortunately, the motives of FIFA, the group that runs the games, trump the desires of citizens in hosting countries. Moreover, FIFA and host governments have more in common in what they are trying to achieve. This has in part caused the marginalization of the people that, ideally, should be receiving the benefits. Brazil has forgone attempts to increase access to education, healthcare and overall quality of life, especially to those with lower incomes, while construction and consulting firms are getting paid regardless of their slow pace. In Qatar, the benefits are not making their way down to those at the core of the process: laborers risk dying only to end up a statistic of the poorly planned preparations.

Of course, if these governments are successful in using the World Cup to strengthen their economies as planned, then the people will experience at least some of the profits. However, the long term benefits are not likely to be as direct or as effective as what they have demanded. If this holds true, then these countries are not utilizing the potential of the World Cup to the extent that they could to greatly aid those of all income levels, not just elite segments of society. And if it is the case that the gains of the World Cup are not distributed efficiently, then this raises questions about corruption in the sense that those in charge of the planning of the Cups can manipulate the effects in the favor of a select few. But there are questions that remain. Is this corruption caused, at least in part, by the demands set out by FIFA? And furthermore, does this corruption exist in these countries normally, or is it something that is only brought out in the spirit of the Cup? Regardless, as Brazil, Russia and Qatar each take the spotlight, they have the opportunity to show the world their strengths as a nation and to prove that they are above corruption, while simultaneously reinvigorating the spirit of the cup for both their underserved communities and avid soccer fans.

Photo by Catalytic Communities

Notes

[1] Carrión, Maria. “Brazil’s Poor Pay World Cup Penalty.” Progressive 77.7 (2013): 26. Master File Premier. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Taberer, Vivienne. “Brazil’s Economy Could Be Primed For A Comeback Going Into The World Cup.” Institutional Investor-International Edition (2013): 244. Business Source Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Conti, Juan Pablo. “Brazil 2014 The Last-Minute World Cup.” Engineering & Technology (17509637) 9.2 (2014): 50-53. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 201 4.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Wahl, Grant. “The Two Brazils?” Sports Illustrated 120.9 (2014): 60. Master File Premier. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[9] Amaral, Marina and Natalia Viana. “Brazil Vs. The World Cup.” Nation 297.3/4 (2013): 6-8. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Conti, Juan Pablo. “Brazil 2014 The Last-Minute World Cup.” Engineering & Technology (17509637) 9.2 (2014): 50-53. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 201 4.
[15] Amaral, Marina and Natalia Viana. “Brazil Vs. The World Cup.” Nation 297.3/4 (2013): 6-8. Academic Search Complete. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
[16] Ibid.
[17] “From Russia With Love.” New African 501 (2010): 66. Master File Premier. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[18] “High Speed To The Urals.” Railway Gazette International 168.9 (2012): 39. Business Source Complete. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[19] Ibid.
[20] “From Russia With Love.” New African 501 (2010): 66. Master File Premier. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[21] Ibid.
[22] “Russia’s World Cup Set To Cost €15 Billion.” Construction Europe 24.7 (2013): 4. Business Source Complete. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[23] “From Russia With Love.” New African 501 (2010): 66. Master File Premier. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[24] “Yaya Toure Suggests Black Players Could Boycott 2018 Russia World Cup.” International Business Times 25 Oct. 2013: Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[25] Ibid.
[26] Interfax. “Russia Says Will Assist FIFA in Probing Bidding Campaign to Host 2018, 2022 World Cups.” Russia & FSU General News 07 Oct. 2013: 1. Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[27] Ibid.
[28] Rawlings, Nate. “Qatar Gets Scolded Yet Again For Migrant Worker Abuses.” Time.Com (2013): 1. Business Source Complete. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[29] Ibid.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Ibid.
[32] Ibid.
[33] Ibid.
[34] Ibid.
[35] Ibid.
[36] Ibid.
[37] “The World Cup Hosts in Bed with Terrorists.” Daily Mail 19 Mar. 2014: 72. Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[38] Ibid
[39] Ibid.
[40] “Call to Take World Cup off Qatar if Votes Were Bought.” Daily Mail 19 Mar. 2014: 73. Regional Business News. Web. 6 Apr. 2014.
[41] Ibid.