Christ the Redeemer and the Maracanã, where some 200,000 assembled for the Brazil-Uruguay final in the World Cup of 1950—the last time Brazil served as host. (Bruno Domingos | Reuters)
Banal wordplay leads to inevitable end … Brazil in 2014
Rio de Janeiro | Should a nation’s literary talent be enlisted as part of a state’s quest for sporting laurels?
Paulo Coelho, member of the Academia Brasileira de Letras and the most widely read Latin American author in history, sat among Brazil’s delegation Oct 30 in Zurich as it made its final presentation before being awarded the 2014 World Cup finals. Brazil was the only country to bid. FIFA—governing by inscrutable logic—deemed that, beginning with the 2018 tournament, it no longer would abide by a continental rotation system that had virtually guaranteed that Brazil would prevail as host. (Will Uruguay similarly be assured a hosting or co-hosting role at the 100th-anniversary event in 2030? Who knows?)
Ricardo Teixeira, long-serving president of the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol, acted as front man for the delegation, with Romario, current Brazil manager Dunga and President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in tow. As many noted, Pelé was not in the mix, having declined to endorse a Brazilian bid for the 2006 tournament.
Others have expressed concern that public investment to repair decrepit stadiums, at an estimated cost of $1.1 billion, would add to Brazil’s debt burden. According to FIFA’s own inspection report, “[N]one of the stadiums in Brazil would be suitable to stage 2014 FIFA World Cupâ„¢ matches in their current state” (p. 25).
The glint from the Jules Rimet statuary has not hindered the critical faculties of O Povo columnist Tostão, who himself lifted the trophy in 1970.
The optimistic say the World Cup will increase the number of tourists, will bring huge benefits in infrastructure for the population and will improve football by improving and building the stadiums. Others think that, because of the violence, the problems with air transport, the terrible highways, the absence of railways, the bad structural condition of the cities and the areas around the stadiums, the enormous government spending, the political interests and the people who take advantage, that Brazil is not prepared for such a task. (quoted in Glenn Moore, “Ugly Reality Threatens World Cup in Land of Joga Bonita,” Independent, Oct 31)
Tim Vickery quotes transportation expert Marcos Quintella, in whose view the major mode of transport in Brazilian urban centers—the bus—is inhumane. Waits last up to 40 minutes, “journeys … can take between two and three hours and inside vehicles with nine or 10 passengers per square meter” (“Brazil’s Road as World Cup Host Is Filled with Potholes,” SI.com, Oct 30).
Naturally, such perspectives were not on display in the FIFA viewing theater. The bid committee, in addition to staged moments of personal testimony, aired a promotional film that brought to mind 16mm featurettes in seventh-grade geography class. Like the movie produced for Brazil’s bid, these school films were backed by bebop–style piano noodling. The late-afternoon screenings formed part of the inescapable torpor of a suburban life. Says the narrator of Brazil’s film:
The 2014 World Cup will be a great opportunity for Brazil to reaffirm its commitment to the environment. The target is to create an event with zero carbon emission. The use of clean or renewable energy will be a priority. Products will be recycled, and garbage will be collected selectively. Actions such as these are aimed at making all Brazilians, and especially young people, aware of the importance of environmental preservation. This is fundamental in a country with so much diversity of flora and fauna, abundant in hydrographic basins and rich in natural beauty.
What were Sepp Blatter and other FIFA suits thinking at this moment? “I had no idea about the hydrographic basins. What a great World Cup host Brazil will make!”
Coelho speaks for slightly less than three minutes at the bid presentation (video in Portuguese). “Your expression about the Brazilian mind-set was most apt,” writes a contributor to Coelho’s blog. “They live, eat, drink, think and dream football.”
Coelho’s connection to football is uncertain. As part of his promotional efforts for HP computers—Coelho says his laptop is a lifeline—he avers that he uses the machine to check “soccer scores.” But for which team? Clearly, the writer requires a network of Flash and database-savvy programmers to keep his amalgam of websites and blogs up and running.
His selection to Brazil’s prestigious literary academy was controversial, writes Glauco Ortolano in World Literature Today (“The Coming of Age of a Brazilian Phenomenon,” Apr–Jun 03). Critics disparage the “narrative simplicity” characteristic of such works as his blockbuster The Alchemist (1988), one of Madonna‘s favorite novels. “His message is also very simple and millennial,” writes Ortolano. “Happiness lies in finding ourselves.”
The release of emotions and living in the present number among Coelho’s core ideas, leading to the view that his work amounts to little more than thinly veiled self-help or life coaching. “All men in my view are like volcanoes,” he tells Ortolano. The man must “allow the lava in the interior to flow out.” In an e-mail exchange with Blatter following the 2006 World Cup—cynics would say that Coelho already was buttering the FIFA man up for the big sell to come—Coelho connects football with the human struggle to transform violent impulses “into a flow of light.” Football, if Coelho’s statements can be taken at face value, permits an alternative mode with which to express “instincts of competition, manhood, strategies, logistics, lust for victory” and so on.
FIFA provided the following spontaneous translation of Coelho’s remarks on Tuesday:
I’m here not to speak of Brazil’s economic improvements, of our big social improvements. That’s not why I’m going to talk. I’m going to say that today is the day where a victory has started, a victory that will last. Seven years [from] today we will be able to live up to our emotions. What we can identify in the Brazilian football squad we are going also to be able to identity among the Brazilian people: the capacity to work together. That’s what the football players do in the field. They are all working for one aim. Brazilians work hard. Brazilians will work hard to meet this challenge. We have also the capacity to dream and, most of all, to be creative.
So [to] bring the right to host the Cup to Brazil also means [to] awaken this emotion. We have won five times a World Cup. But this emotion is still alive, despite the fact that we won five times. Our relationship with football is very particular. I’ve seen people spend five years discussing a match. I’ve seen people discussing for five hours a match, but I’ve never seen someone discussing a sexual relationship for five hours. So I can tell you that the emotion created by football lasts longer than the emotion created by sexual relationships. I’m not saying that one is better is the other. I’m just saying that one lasts longer than the other.
And, from now on, if FIFA decides to grant us this honor, I can reassure you, Mister President, Joseph Blatter, that you will be able to count on us, and you will see that we will be as disciplined as our football players. We will be as creative. We will work in a team as our players do. And as Brazilians we will honor our commitments.
Coelho extols the notion of sacrifice (albeit “creative” sacrifice) on behalf of a team concept, which appears to clash, at least superficially, with a literary ethos he describes as “man in search of his own identity.” In his writing he has elevated the motif of pilgrimage or journey atop the hierarchy of spiritual fulfillment, which is sensible considering his own fractured biography—involving electroshock therapy as a youth and persecution by the Brazilian dictatorship. The trauma helped launch a seeking life as a lyricist, theater director and self-actualizer.
Still, it seemed strange to see a figure of letters participating in the corporate-tainted badinage and boosterism such as that on view in Zurich this week. Was Coelho seduced by the CBF vision quest? Does he ignore what Rio salesman Lucas Mattos called “this misery in the streets”?
Listen to our podcast interview with Coelho, recorded on Nov 8.