Ordinary Brazilians Foot The Bill For Sepp Blatter To Foot The Fifa Ball

DURBAN – Over the last fortnight, Brazil’s two million street protesters in 80 cities supporting the Free Fare Movement have declared how fed up they are with making multiple sacrifices to Brazilian neoliberalism as revitalized by one Sepp Blatter, the Swiss emperor of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa). While right-wing opportunists have been involved in some of the recent protests, the core grievances are apparently those of the left and of the disaffected youth. 

Writing from South Africa, my compatriots and I should not merely offer Brazilians our admiration, since a “Grand Pact” is apparently now being crafted by President Dilma Rousseff. Having failed to repress the rebellion with brute police force, she now appears ready to make large-scale concessions. As she put it on Friday, “We need to oxygenate our political system, to find ways to return to our institutions to be more transparent, more resistant to bad practices and more open to the influence of society.” 

We should also take the opportunity to prod our own three-year-old memories here. After the giddy month of June-July 2010, our own World Cup hangover still requires maxi-strength aspirins for the crushing pain so many South Africans suffer, underfoot Blatter’s white elephant stadiums and elites-only infrastructure.  

The memory may have faded, but there were also thousands of South Africans rioting in the streets in the period just before the World Cup began, in a manner so threatening that the Pretoria regime of Jacob Zuma appeared ready to implement the corporate-Swiss version of fascist rule.  

Today, our main cities’ municipal budgets are still bleeding red accountant blood, with millions of dollars annually diverted to subsidise stadium operating costs, for which Fifa Local Operating Committee Danny Jordaan humbly apologised last year. In the Fifa tradition of endless crony-corruption, the big construction cartels illegally colluded to massively overprice those near-empty sports monuments, it was revealed a few months ago. 

And although Johannesburg’s $2.5 billion elite fast-train built for the World Cup – conspicuously disconnected from working-class transport – was meant to break even with 110,000 riders a day, it still needs an $80 million annual subsidy because its Fifa-dazed planners overestimated ridership by two-thirds. Durban’s unnecessary new $1 billion King Shaka Airport is a mostly desolate “aerotropolis” fantasyland, as none of the anticipated international hub traffic materialized. 

After egging us on to build hedonistic palaces, bullet-trains and airports while the vast majority here suffer so much, Blatter’s crimes against SA society and economy continue unpunished. His mafia took more than $3 billion in revenues back to Zurich without paying taxes or heeding exchange controls, and meanwhile the SA foreign debt soared from $70 billion just before the World Cup to $135 billion today. 

Brazil is already suffering an identical hangover and the pain is reportedly unbearable. Most observers of the lauded emerging markets – including superficially-strong Turkey – were surprised by the recent upsurge of popular fury. When Dilma visited Durban three months ago for the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) leadership summit, her confidence and political momentum were evident.  

After all, she and predecessor Lula da Silva – a popular former metalworker – had treated her society and environment far better than the other four, it appeared. Unique amongst the BRICS, inequality had dropped substantially thanks to the doubling of the minimum wage and a family grant. And in contrast to her much filthier summit partners, Brazil was rated in 2012 by the Yale-Columbia Environmental Performance Index as improving on many fronts – which allowed Dilma to victoriously host last year’s Rio+20 United Nations Earth Summit. 

With her Workers Party having largely defanged the CUT union movement as well as a large chunk of the left intelligentsia and NGOs, Brazil likewise provided grounds for South African progressives’ misimpressions, as we desperately search for (at minimum) social-democratic, green and gender-civilized examples to emulate.  

Last September, in the wake of the Marikana Massacre, Congress of SA Trade Union pragmatists argued passionately that we need a “Lula Moment” so as to apply similar policies here. I doubt we’ll hear that untenable phrase again. 

In Brasilia, hubris soon set in. You could just hear that elite back-slapping, what with hosting this month’s Fifa Confederations Cup soccer, the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, and the victorious campaigns by Brazilians to lead the World Trade Organisation and UN Food and Agricultural Organisation. Looking outward at great expense, Dilma and her Workers Pary put their society through a slow-motion wringer, which I witnessed during a month’s stay in Rio a year ago, culminating in a march of 80,000 against Rio+20’s pro-corporate “Green Economy” spin.  

That demo featured hundreds of huge cardboard cut-outs of a sinister-looking Dilma bearing a chainsaw, clearing the Amazon for the country’s largest corporations, Vale and Petrobras, helped by the gigantic BNDES national development bank. Conflict last month arose again after Vale and BNDES wrecked indigenous people’s habitat with the Belo Monte mega-dam’s construction. Next door to us in Mozambique, similar anger at Vale’s coal land-grabbing is also now motivating protests by thousands of peasants. 

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On the evening of June 13 in Durban, several hundred security workers at the new stadium revolted after the Germany-Australia game, demanding payment of a promised bonus. They had received $20 for 12 hours’ work, as outsourcing and superexploitation soured employee relations in the often dangerous security sector. Police tear-gassed and stun-grenaded 300 to break up the protest. 

In four other stadiums, workers downed tools against the security-sector labour brokers, leading to mass firings and compelling more expensive national police to come to Fifa’s aid as internal security. 

Wavering Flag”:

Shame on the Beautiful Game,” which soon joined a whole CD of hip-hop protest tunes produced by Defboyz. They gathered musicians from “all over the world and in a variety of languages to put one message across: that the powers that be must be held accountable for their actions!” 

Also in defense of popular culture, perhaps the most successful protest explicitly against Fifa’s influence was by hundreds of Durban line-height:150%;font-family:"Verdana","sans-serif";mso-fareast-font-family:
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"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>political scientist Ana Garcia, “The movement for free transport is an old part of the students’ movement. They’ve started the street protests in Sao Paulo against the tariff increase, and this quickly became a spontaneous protest against the privatization of public services, against the huge amount of public money given to private consortia for the World Cup, against extremely bad quality public health, schools and public urban transport.”
"Times New Roman";mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"”>“The World Cup in South Africa was a huge, huge financial success for Africa, for South Africa and for FIFA”
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