Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – God may be Brazilian, but Marx certainly wasn’t. He famously stated that “religion is the opiate of the masses” when, here in Brazil, all know that “futebol” is the true opiate, as addictive to Marxists and Socialists as it is to autocratic generals. It makes you feel good even when things are very bad.

The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.
The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

Last week the Curmudgeon learned that former President Lula had come to visit the building site formerly known as Maracanã, because the stadium is very badly behind schedule.

Originally scheduled to be completed by December 2012, it’s now due to be inaugurated on April 15th; if it isn’t, FIFA can, theoretically, pull the plug on it as a venue for the Confederations Cup scheduled for this June. That, of course, would be a political disaster for Lula, who promised FIFA it would be ready on time.

One historic reason for such tardiness is that builders invent rationalizations for not building — ranging from “it’s raining” to “the dog ate the blueprints for the roof”. Claiming they must work harder to meet the impending deadline, they demand extra pay for that “extra” work.

But there’s another reason: the work stoppages called by the unions representing the construction workers. The unions knowingly plan their strikes for times when they are most likely to get what they demand. Unsurprisingly, there have been strikes by construction workers at Maracanã every few months since the job began in 2010.

At first, the unions demand pie in the sky — wage increases of fifty percent plus fringe benefits. Compromising, the unions get only part of what they want. But a few months later they stop work again, this time asking for pie à la mode. The builders, feigning concern about their deadline, grant another slice or two of pie. And so forth and so on.

In February, Governor Cabral paused his globetrotting to cobble together yet another deal between workers and contractors. Cabral knows that pie is not free, and that the government will eventually fork over more money to the contractors to cover the higher labor costs. But politics always trumps economics, and the deadline is political.

The original cost estimate (itself an outrageous R$750 million) has now gone WAY past the R$1 billion mark. Things are going very badly. But nobody cares.

Nobody cares, because football is the opiate of the Brazilian masses. Last week Minister of Sports Aldo Rebelo put forth the jaw-dropping proposal that Brazil’s federal government should grant a full tax amnesty to Brazilian football clubs.

His justification is that, “Football is part of the Brazilian cultural heritage; it’s … recognized as an element of our Brazilianicity.” In Rio, Lula said, “When we put on our national team jersey, we’re representing millions of Brazilian men and women.”

This mendacious full frontal populism was not invented by leftists. In 1970 (the most repressive year of the military dictatorship) the generals, claiming to represent millions of Brazilians, all donned the national uniform, hoping to distract attention from the very, very, very bad situation in the country.

Brazil won the 1970 World Cup, but the opium wore off soon enough. Lula lived through that era; he should know better than to prescribe the same sordid medicine to the workers at Maracanã and Cariocas in general.

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)


  1. Despite loving “The Beautiful Game”, and with excellent reasons for doing so, some Brazilians are not surprised with the whole of a situation that can even get worse…
    The Curmudgeon has an impeccable insight.

  2. Although the curmudgeon is right in many points, the biggest problem we face in Brazil is not the opiate in form of soccer, but lack of education. As most of the people are not educated enough, most do not know their rights and do not fight for them. Our school system is designed to produce this lack of education. A lot of people do not want that World Cup be held in Brazil. However, we cannot stop our government. A much greater number of people would have to become aware of the problems we are facing, like the fact that money that should go for public education and health is being diverted to preparing the city for the games.

  3. Excerpt from an interview with Noam Chomsky in the film Manufacturing Consent:

    “Take, say, sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it — you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. [audience laughs] That keeps them from worrying about — [applause] keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political and social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information [more laughter] and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.

    You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? [laughter] I mean, I don’t know anybody on the team, you know? [audience roars] I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why I am cheering for my team? It doesn’t mean any — it doesn’t make sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements — in fact, it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that’s why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on.”


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