Brazil

The Greatest Show on Earth

by Maurice Mcleod

Football frequently makes me a hypocrite.

I’ve spent a sizeable chunk of my life thinking, writing and ranting about social justice but when it comes to football, I’m as blinkered as a Daily Mail reader. A bunch of philandering millionaires, kicking a bit of leather around, get my full-hearted backing in a way that city traders and industry big-wigs can only dream of.

I’ve turned a blind eye to racism, violence and homophobia when it comes from men who happen to wear the red shirt of the team I randomly follow. I’ve spent my last dime travelling to cheer a group of strangers who wouldn’t waste the steam from their Bentleys’ exhausts on me if I were on fire.

Off the pitch it gets worse.

Football is ‘organised’ by a multinational dictatorship which is dripping in blood, bigotry and corruption. Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, has told gay people worried about travelling to homophobic Qatar to “refrain from any sexual activities.”

He’s suggested the way to increase popularity of the women’s game is to get women playing in “more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts.” Before adding “Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so,”

He even suggested that racism on the pitch should be resolved by no more than a handshake.

For years now I’ve been planning my trip to Brazil for this year’s World Cup. With my small diverse group of football watching mates, I’ve travelled the world to watch this glorious game. I’ve hugged and cried with strangers in the Ataturk stadium in Istanbul as my beloved Liverpool did the unthinkable. I’ve been swamped by cheering Portugeezers after they knocked England out on penalties.I’ve watched open mouthed as Zinedine Zidane, the greatest footballer of his generation, said goodbye to football with a head-butt.

Brazil promised to eclipse it all.

If England is football’s biological father, then Brazil is its spiritual home.

You can keep your Wemblies and your Stades de France, watching the World Cup final in Rio’s legendary Maracanã, would be a football Haj.

Three years ago I accidentally (don’t ask!) went on a two week holiday to Brazil and fell in love with this amazing nation. The people are warm, the climate is beautiful and the setting is stunning. While it isn’t the post-racial melting pot that it is sometimes held up as, it has some interesting things to say about the transience of race.

Until last year, I was making my plans and looking forward to this summer. Then 2 million Brazilians took to the streets during last summer’s Confederations Cup finals and I took notice.

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Photo: REUTERS

Despite Brazil’s rapidly increasing wealth, there are many who have been left behind. The favelas, which are still predominantly black, are still places of squalor perched on hillsides overlooking some of Brazil’s most iconic sights.

The Brazilian World Cup will earn FIFA £3.5bn from the month-long tournament but Brazil’s poor face draconian policing and very little else. The government has trampled on homes and uprooted communities to prepare for the games. Some estimates say the bill for hosting the World Cup and Olympics two years later will be close to $1 trillion.

Brazil’s President Dilma will claim the bill won’t be that high and that the spending will provide a lasting legacy for her nation. Brazil’s poor will be wisely sceptical that any boost to the economy will trickle down to them.

Watching the World Cup leaves me way more excited than is acceptable for a grown man. This year I’m doing it from my living room and in the pubs. Despite the lowlifes that run it and the dodgy politics that surround it, the World Cup is still the greatest show on earth.

This year, for once, football won’t make me a hypocrite.

Maurice Mcleod is a London-based journalist, a regular blogger, and a member of Writers of Colour. He was communications manager at NCVO and is the director of communications company Marmoset Media and is a a trustee at Race on the Agenda. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian’s Comment is Free. Maurice tweets as @mowords

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2 replies »

  1. You’re so right Akwesi, I really do love football but so much of it and how it’s organised is rotten. I’d love to see a People’s Football movement but the money and power of FIFA (and UEFA and even to a lesser extent the FA) is just too great for anything other than the celebrity-money festival it’s turned into.

  2. An honest & timely article about a contradiction many football supporters are reluctant to admit. I too love the beautiful game, but judging by the atmosphere in Brazil I can’t blame you for avoiding the World Cup this year mate. Holidaying in “other people’s misery” is one thing, but doing so while they protest the very reason you’re in their country is near-impossible to reconcile.

    And the contradiction continues even when we stay at home. I abhor Blatter and Platini and the giant corporations they pander to – but I’ll still be looking forward to all of the football yet to be played in Brazil and herein lies the conflict.