World Cup time! Hurray! An entire month of football! Rejoice as the pubs stay open late for weirdly timed matches! Gasp at your workmates’ expertise on Iran’s deployment of a false 9! Repeatedly smash yourself in the face with your iPad as you read yet another article by a broadsheet columnist complaining that people don’t pay as much attention to literary fiction as they do to sport!
While the competition officially kicks off tonight, the Brazilians, or, specifically, the archdiocese of Rio have dived in with an early tackle, reportedly threatening to sue Italian broadcaster RAI for an advert showing Rio’s famous Christ The Redeemer statue wearing the Jersey of Italy’s Azzurri.
Suing for what, exactly, is not clear. The church’s lawyer, Rodrigo Grazioli, has been quoted as saying “The Archdiocese is deeply offended. It’s as if Brazilian TV were to make a commercial in which mulatto girls engaged in lewd behaviour with the gladiators of the Colosseum.”
Leaving aside the bizarrely specific and racist mention of “mulatto girls”, and the fact that people involved with churches have to make absolutely everything, ever, about “lewd behaviour”, it’s still not clear what the exact complaint is. Is it the suggestion that the colossal statue might support Italy? That Jesus himself might support Italy? Is this about putting any jersey at all on Jesus, or specifically an Italian one? Is there something specifically blasphemous about suggesting that the Son of God is a catenaccio man?
Or is it something rather more prosaic, such as, say, the church claiming to hold copyright over the image of the statue?
If it is that, as the original O Globo newspaper report suggests, then Grazioli and his clients are being more than a little disingenuous in their outrage. If the issue is simply an objection to commercial usage of the image, than that’s what the complaint should be about.
So why the offended line? Why the suggestion of an insult to religion? Because, put simply, it works. Who wants to be offensive?
In Ireland this week, national broadcaster RTE refused to show a sketch as part of the Savage Eye sketch show. The sketch, now leaked on the web features a group of “wild nuns” ogling a muscular Jesus, in a spoof of Diet Coke ads of old. Comic David McSavage, the man responsible for the skit, has said the broadcaster is afraid of Ireland’s blasphemy laws; RTE says its own guidelines will not allow for “undue offence”.
I’m not even sure that, even if one was a supporter of laws against blasphemy, images of hunky Jesus, or Azzurri Jesus would necessarily count as blasphemous, at least not for Catholics.
On a panel on religious art a few years ago, I found myself simultaneously playing the role of token secularist and token Roman Catholic. The other panelists – art critics and Anglicans – were quite keen on abstraction in religious art. I found myself defending the more visceral, more Roman depictions of Jesus and God on the basis that the entire point of Jesus was his manifestation as human.
To ascribe certain human possibilities to him, such as lust, or even supporting a particular sports team, should not be considered transgressive; indeed I recall, in my youth, our parish priest would often offer up prayers for the local Gaelic football club, suggesting at least the possibility of partisanship. And the very fact that nuns are “brides of Christ” is suggestive of, well…
Catholicism doesn’t really have a problem with idolatry either. Catholics complaining about depictions of Christ do not have the same theological basis as Orthodox Sunni Muslims, who at least can point to some rules on portrayals (which is not to suggest that everyone should follow those rules). Catholics, with our brightly painted statues, sacred medals and all the rest, don’t really have a leg to stand on this one.
These squeals of “offence” are really demands for “respect”, in the Corleone sense. And since the Danish Muhammad cartoons, religions have been in a respect-based arms war. Every time you hear a conservative Christian moan that this or that comic or writer “wouldn’t say that about the Muslims”, remember, they are not praising their own faith’s humility, but condemning its timidity. The archdiocese of Rio is playing a version of this game with its claim to be offended by a Photoshopped football jersey. There’s no reason we should play along.
In Curitiba, about 300 protesters took to the streets of the central city asking for more health and safety improvements in the country and against the hosting of the World Cup 2014 in Brazil. (Image: João Frigério / Demotix)
On 8 January, residents in Rio’s Metrô-Mangueira favela, were greeted by government representatives, set to demolish houses and evict residents. A demonstration was led then by the residents to fight their removal, but once again violence broke out between the police and the protestors, with police firing rubber bullets into crowds.
Rio On Watch said: “Having evicted long-time residents to public housing units without any public consultation over the use of land – required by local legislation – the city left the land and houses to be occupied by those in most desperate need of public housing.” These “desperate” residents are now being forced out and given no alternative housing, despite promises from mayor Eduardo Paes that nobody would be left homeless.
The demonstration in the Metrô favela, is emblematic of the current mood all across Brazil. Triggered by a hike in already expensive bus fares, 2013 saw Brazil’s biggest protest movement for over 20 years, in what became known as the “V for Vinegar” movement or the “Salad Revolution”. More than two million protestors took to the streets to fight against issues such as government corruption, poor social services and a rise in the cost of living. Right at the heart of the movement however, was a feeling of alienation and exclusion from the decision making process for the preparations of the 2014 World Cup.
According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, in the context of the implementation of sporting mega events, all UN states must, “ensure full transparency of the planning and implementation process and the meaningful participation of the affected local communities therein”. However this transparency is not happening in Brazil as authorities bulldoze favelas, and replace them with car parks and shopping centres.
In many cases residents learn of their evictions through the media before government communications. This was true for the residents of Vila Autódromo in Rio, who first learned of their proposed eviction through the front page of the O Globo newspaper on 4 October 2011.
In other cases, residents are told by authorities that their properties must be demolished because of alleged structural risks. Three hundred homes were identified for demolition because of such “structural risks” in Pavão-Pavãozinho, but residents have been waiting since July 2011 for authorities to provide evidence of such risks. This is a further example of the Brazilian government failing to offer their citizens information or ensure political transparency.
The government has established two bodies to organise the World Cup, which exist outside the normal political structure. The 2014 World Cup Steering Committee and the Committee Responsible for Host Cities liaise with FIFA, the federal government and advisory bodies mostly comprised of private companies. Decisions made by these bodies are not discussed with the public, and information regarding plans is excluded from the general population.
In Curitiba, the population unanimously opposed the council’s decision to give £22.5m to the private construction of the João Américo Guimarães Stadium. However requests for information were denied and there was no public participation in the council’s decision.
The example of the João Américo Guimarães Stadium, is typical of the wider situation whereby the government is spending billions of dollars on the construction of infrastructure and stadiums without giving the people a say in the matter. The Arena da Amazônia stadium in Manaus has cost £151m, while The Economist estimates that the Brazilian government has already spent £1.9 billion on World Cup stadiums collectively.
Marcelo Pelligrini, a journalist from São Paulo told Index on Censorship: “This is a huge stadium [Arena da Amazônia] because of the standards of FIFA, but after the World Cup we have no use for this stadium, and after the tournament it will probably become a jail.”
“The main point in Brazil is the use of these millionaire stadiums. That is what the population is complaining about. They are spending half a billion reias on a stadium that has no use after the World Cup, and we have no good transportation, no health insurance, we have nothing,” Mr Pelligrini said.
The World Cup is not benefiting the Brazilian people, according to Pelligrini: “We have great stadiums, but no good services.” He also felt that the Brazilian people were not being given democratic representation in the decision making process.
Denied a say in the preparations for the World Cup, the Brazilian people flocked to the streets in 2013, to protest against the way the government has been organising the tournament. The protests were driven by a multitude of building grievances, but a feeling that the democratic process had broken down, and the voice of the Brazilian people was being ignored, was at the heart of the demonstrations. Protestors held banners proclaiming, “FIFA go home”, “We don’t need the World Cup, we need money for hospitals and education” and “World Cup for whom?”
These sentiments epitomise the zeitgeist of the Brazilian nation, and their feeling that the World Cup has only benefited the few, while he vast majority are excluded from the decisions and thus the benefits.
The recent protest in the Metrô-Mangueira favela underlines how these grievances are ongoing. The image of residents clashing once more with riot police depicts the ultimate breakdown in communications and democracy in the lead-up to the biggest, and supposedly most unifying, football tournament in the world.
A demonstrator disguises her face during a the “March of the Sluts” in Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: Vito Di Stefano / Demotix)
“If someone is gay, and seeks God’s good will, who am I to judge?”, he told reporters on his flight back to Italy on 28 July.
“The problem is not having this orientation. We should be brothers. The problem is lobbying towards this orientation, or lobbying for jealous people, politicians, masons. This is the worst problem,” Francis said.
Frei Betto, one of Brazil’s most prominent members of Liberation Theology – a leftist religious trend created in South America in the 70’s – hopes that the Pope’s remarks about the gay community can start a new phase of dialogue.
“With Francis, the themes of sexuality could be discussed in the church with greater freedom and integrity,” he said in an interview.
However, Francis could not escape criticism from leaders of Brazil’s gay movements.
“During the debate on equal marriage law in Argentina, (Jorge Mario) Bergoglio acted as an extremist leader. He said the bill was a plot of the devil to destroy God’s plan and called for holy war”, says deputy Jean Wyllys, recalling the attitude of the pontiff back in 2010, when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.
“Pope Francis is even worse that pastor Feliciano, because he is much more powerful, richer and smarter”, says Bahia’s Gay Group president Luiz Mott, in a reference to federal deputy and pastor Marco Feliciano, president of the Chamber of Deputies’ Human Rights Committee and famous for his homophobic remarks.
“(Francis) began his pontificate with two deeply antigay attitudes: he canonized Pope John Paul II, the biggest homophobe in the 20th century, and signed along with Pope Benedict XVI his first encyclical, which condemns gay families.”
Frei Betto concedes that most Catholics still feel cautious about more controversial issues like gay marriage, but he believes that the pope “opened an important door” to gay people.
“He took the theme out of the closet. He also supported the demonstrations, emphasizing that young people should protest, and criticized the idolatry of power and money.”
The pope spoke about the demonstrations that have broken out in Brazil’s major cities since early June. Addressing cultural and business leaders at Rio de Janeiro’s Municipal Theater, Francis said that constructive dialogue is “essential to face the present,” in a clear mention to the protests.
“Between selfish indifference and violent protest, there is an option whenever possible: dialogue. Dialogue between generations, the dialogue with the people, the ability to give and receive, remaining open to the truth,” Francis said.
Later, speaking to 3 million people on Copacabana beach, he expressly urged people to go on protests, saying that those who want to be “protagonists of change” should “overcome apathy”, though in an orderly way. “Go out the streets!”, Francis exclaimed to the crowd.
However, while the Pontiff spoke, a few hundred protesters gathered in the “March of the Sluts”, walking the boardwalk of Copacabana Beach carrying placards in favor of abortion and women’s and gays’ rights. Some women walked down the street topless, while a group smashed figures of the Virgin Mary.
“The pope supported the demonstrations, but I don’t think he learned about the March of the Sluts, which I consider disrespectful to the Christian faith, by stepping on crucifixes and such”, says Frei Betto.
Theologian Leonardo Boff, another prominent Liberation Theology figure in Brazil, says the Pope’s humbler approach led to a more understanding view of the protesters, by defending young people’s “utopia” and “the right of them to be heard”.
“The biggest legacy is the figure of Pope Francis: a humble servant of faith, deprived of all pomp, touching and letting others touch him, speaking the language of young people and (telling) the truth with sincerity”, he posted on his blog.
Francis had arrived in Brazil on 22 July where he led World Youth Journey, an international Catholic event hosted in Rio de Janeiro. Hundreds of thousands of Catholics from all over the world flocked to Rio in order to have a closer look at the Pope, who assumed a more straight-forward, simpler approach towards followers than his predecessor, Benedict XVI.
A judge handed down a 31-year prison term to a police officer turned vigilante who abducted and tortured three journalists working for O Dia newspaper, a verdict the Brazilian newspaper described Thursday as “historic.” Former police inspector Odinei Fernandes da Silva, who led a paramilitary group that controlled the Rio de Janeiro slum of Batan, was found guilty of robbery, torture and criminal conspiracy. Read more here