I love soccer, and I’ve been looking forward to this World Cup since, well, since it ended in 2010. Back then I watched games at pubs in England and Germany between revisions to my thesis; this year I’ll do more listening via a streaming app since now I have a desk job. Like many people, I spent my youth loving the Olympics (and later, the World Cup) without really thinking about the impact the games have on the cities and countries that seek to host them.
The past few years, however, especially in the lead up to the seemingly extraordinarily corrupt Sochi games, have brought the issues of these large-scale sporting events to my mind. I mean, I’d heard about bribery in Salt Lake City, and I know that, on a smaller scale, new stadiums are often sold as an economic boon to a city but rarely if ever actually make up for the economic and social costs. When I saw that Dave Zirin, sports writer for The Nation, was writing a book about the lead-up to the World Cup and the Olympics in Brazil, I knew I had to check it out to try to educate myself.
This is a good book. It’s written in a way that kept me engaged, and I think part of that comes from Mr. Zirin’s talent as a magazine writer. While he’s written other books, I primarily associate him with shorter pieces, and this book feels like an extension of a short piece (in a good way). He condensed a lot of complicated history into a few pages, which obviously can’t tell the full story, but it gave enough background to set the current stage. He shared interviews with the residents at risk of being evicted by World Cup and Olympics construction, and helped shatter (for me anyway) the idea that favelas are primarily dangerous ‘slums’. He doesn’t gloss over the real problems that already existed in some of these areas, but he also shares why these communities feel so connected to their homes, and why what the government is looking to do to them is so troubling. I’ve known for a while that my education in this area is woefully lacking; I’m more than a little embarrassed that it took the World Cup coming to Brazil for me to seek out more information on it.
I did want more from this book, but it’s hard for me to put my finger on what that is. I’m so glad he wrote it, and I hope more people read it. I also hope that he does a follow-up book on what happened during the World Cup, what else is happening with the Olympics, and perhaps offers up some suggestions on how we can throw these giant events without them turning into corrupt endeavors that serve to make the rich richer.