Life and Other Four Letter Words: G O A L
Imagine the whole world is in stuck in an elevator together. It’s tense and crowded. We’re all standing shoulder to shoulder holding in our farts. It’s hot in the elevator and tempers are high because we all hate each other. Some of us smell like salami, some of us are talking loudly on the phone about oil, some of us think that parts of the elevator are ours because God says so, some are picking pockets and stealing secrets, a couple are whispering about others behind their backs, one is destitute and holding out a stars’n’stripes top hat and begging for money, there’s a couple of people who don’t think they’re standing in a elevator at all and will fight anyone who calls this an elevator and want everyone in ‘not the elevator’ to recognize that it isn’t an elevator at all and a few of us brought some goats that won’t stop bleating. It’s going from uncomfortable to downright hostile. The stuck elevator isn’t moving. No one is smiling and it’s about to get very real.
But then someone says, “Ahem, soccer? Men running and kicking a ball. My team better is than yours.” And everyone in the elevator stops reaching for their machetes and mace.
A ball. Your team. My team. Better. Worse. Boom!
The elevator erupts into good-natured banter. It’s all on. It’s gesticulation time, it’s nickname o’clock. The farts are let out and no one cares. The elevator deniers, goat herders, salami eaters and broke-ass hat holders all crowd around the oil tycoons phone to watch the sports. And then, “GOOOOOOAAAAAAL!” You’re a bunch of lazy peasants, Mexico and I love you. You suck a pink skin baguette you French fucks – now come to arms. No one even knows who you are Cote d’Ivoire (seriously). And we are all hugging because a ball was kicked by a man into a net at the end of a field and, thankfully, mercifully, brilliantly, glory be to the world - it means abso-fucking-lutely nothing.
Soccer talk is small talk, and every stuck elevator needs some small talk eventually. In our case it’s every four years.
This Friday sees the start of a month long, gigantic global small-talk tournament about nothing. The 2014 World Cup -- the game that the whole world plays and so everyone, except Americans, can probably muster a fuck to give.
For you Americans who don’t get it (because America suck at it) the World Cup is like 64 Super Bowls crammed into one month… except every single game played is bigger and more watched than the Super Bowl. About 188.4 million people watch every match live. Some 2.2 billion people -- 31% of the planet watched at least one game of the 2010 World Cup. Much, much, much, MUCH ado indeed.
Along with the 32 nations playing there are 22 key sponsors on board sitting in corporate boxes reveling in the fact that nothing’s happening for a whole month and everyone who isn’t one of those “I don’t do competition”, contrarian, vegan, ex-occupy hippie types is, as Mc Donalds say, ‘Loving it’.
Sponsors adore nothing. If it was up to sponsors nothing would happen all the time. Nothing is the best thing to put your product next to. Nothing is clean, wholesome and makes anything look good. It’s hard to engineer product placement around an election or climate change. A sports tournament filled with famous men who say nothing while doing nothing can sell anything. Soccer players are, like all athletes, basically a bunch of highly paid dogs that chase a ball around a field. They can also thank Jesus for the ability to run after the ball and buy cars for their mothers. They’re millionaire, momma's-boys, Jesus dogs.
You can’t be a smart, outspoken athlete because soon you start asking yourself what you’re actually doing and why… “So I chase a ball. Then I kick it? I kick a ball? I chase a ball? Ball? What is ‘ball’? Why is ‘kick’?” it all starts getting very esoteric very quickly and before you know it you’re picking holes in the very fabric of space and time and you might just sit on the field in the middle of a game, remove your shoes and start drawing on your feet. So it’s better that athletes are mostly just silent kids with tearful Mothers who love them. Because when athletes are pointlessly pursuing a ball, thanking Jesus and not talking about anything they can’t kick, thank or buy a car for - that script is pretty unbeatable especially when most of the planet is watching them do it. That, as they say, is money for nothing.
And like all the things on the planet that shouldn’t really matter as much as they do - there’s a lot of money in it. Around $5 billion being spent TV ads alone. £1 billion will be spent in UK bookies. Adidas expects to make $2.7 billion from its soccer division alone. FIFA could earn $4 billion from Official Partners and TV rights but the biggest number is the $13 billion the Brazilian tourism minister says will be added to Brazil’s GDP.
The biggest product for sale is, of course, Brazil. This World Cup takes place in the spiritual home of soccer, terrible haircuts and hungry arses that eat bikini bottoms. Brazil is also home to roughly one thousand favelas that house millions of poor and working class Brazilians. Some of these favelas are home to gangs and drugs and high crime rates that aren’t pretty to see and will do the opposite of encouraging tourists to get their wallets out. Brazil also has a problem with street kids. An unknowable number of kids are living on the streets. Unlike the often seen character of the ‘plucky street kid with the mad soccer skillz that makes it to the stadium one day to play for the home nation and score the GOOOOAAAAALLLL!’ you might see in a message from a sponsor these kids don’t have winning smiles and a dream – they have tuberculosis and HIV. This is not good for brand Brazil.
Like all major global sporting events the World Cup costs a shit-load to set up. There are stadiums ($15 billion worth and counting), hotels, cable cars and mega-brothels to build and that takes money and space. You have to speculate to accumulate and this money and space is being reappropriated (taken) from the poor and diverted (handed) to the rich. Soccer has always been, and will always be, a game of two halves.
Fuck. It seems there is a something left to talk about even though the soccer is on.
Starting in 2007 when Brazil was awarded the World Cup the government has been on a bit of a clean- up/murder spree. Displacing over 200,000 citizens to make room for new building works associated with the tournament and working to lower the crime rate so tourists are safe. The government opting for a simple strategy when it comes to dealing with the in the Favela’s criminal element – kill the criminal element.
Two thousand citizens are killed per year by military police units or as they are terrifyingly called, ‘Pacification Units.’ The official line is that the Pacification Units are cleaning up the drug dealers and the gangs in the areas surrounding the stadiums and routes to and from the stadium. The drug dealers and gangs have guns so you send in bigger guns – no trials, no arrests no need for court dates. It’s like Judge Dredd! Find a car thief, pull him out of the car, shoot him in the head and then say something cool like, “You have the right to remain dead.” And it’s not just the police who are busy coming up with those catch phrases. Reports of privately sponsored, unambiguously named ‘Death Squads’ have long been surfacing in the cities of Brazil. Mercenaries paid for by corporate and private interests to disappear street kids and make neighborhoods welcoming for tourists and their money.
And it’s these human rights abuses and state sanctioned murder that should make us raise questions about countries like Brazil being handed not just that World Cup but also the 2016 Olympics. At the rate of 2000 (we know of) slain a year that’s 4000 Brazilian men, women and children dead by the time we light the Olympic torch.
That’s the sort reality noise I for one am looking forward to not hearing about for the next month. Bring on the small talk. Bring on nothing. Where’s the octopus that can guess the outcome of the games? Where are the dogs with hairstyles of Italian defenders? Will Ronaldo’s knee be able to recover in time to get out of his Lamborghini? It’s do or die time for Cameroon's soccer boots. Where the fuck is Cote d’lvoire. The English are out of the tournament and it ALL ROONEY’S FAULT. What are the WAGS wearing? If it goes to go to penalties is Neymar the right man to bring Brazil the cup? What happens to the people who’s homes got bulldozed? Where will they dispose of the bodies of the dead kids? Shit.
Every four years the world gathers for a soccer tournament. Thirty-two nations assemble. Billions of dollars change hands. The world’s media aim thousands of cameras at millionaire dog-men. TV’s are on in every house and pub and the real world is drowned out by the cliché laden screams of crazed commentators. Soccer is brilliantly irrelevant. Soccer, thankfully, doesn’t really matter a toss. There’s screaming and cheering and some global small talk. Old men. Women. Young kids. All share the same subject – and it has no bearing on anything.
For most of us soccer has the power to give us the wonderful gift of nothing. For poor Brazilians, it would great if it did the opposite.