In Stanley Kubrick’s classic Vietnam film “Full Metal Jacket,” the main character, Private Joker, adorns his military uniform with a peace sign button while walking around in a combat helmet with the phrase, “born to kill” scrawled on it.
When prodded by a superior officer as to why he has chosen such strange attire, Joker responds, “I think I was trying to suggest something about the duality of man, sir!”
When Brazil and Croatia kick off the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Thursday in São Paulo, that duality of man will showcase itself on the biggest stage possible as if Kubrick were directing it himself.
Everyone knows that FIFA, the organizing body of world soccer, is corrupt.
Everyone knows that tournament officials pocketed millions of dollars that were supposed to pay for public transportation, hospitals and schools.
But for 32 days the world will turn a blind eye and simply enjoy the games. And you should, too — nothing else on Earth celebrates the diversity and multiculturalism of 32 different nations from six different continents on a mainstream level.
“Everywhere has its irremediable national catastrophe, something like a Hiroshima. Our catastrophe, our Hiroshima, was the defeat to Uruguay in 1950.” — Nelson Rodrigues, Brazilian playwright.
Rodrigues may be exaggerating but his words still ring true, as they were explored in ESPN’s excellent “30 for 30″ documentary, “Barbosa: The Man Who Made Brazil Cry.” It explored the tragic life of Moacir Barbosa, the Brazilian goalkeeper who allowed the goal that Uruguay scored to snatch the 1950 World Cup away from the host country.
“Under Brazilian law, the maximum sentence is 30 years,” a dying Barbosa said in 2000. “But my imprisonment has been for 50 years.”
By winning five World Cups, Brazil would somewhat escape from the shadow of that defeat that silenced nearly 200,000 fans at the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. But none of those titles would mean as much as one captured in the stadium that now dominates the Rio skyline. A stadium that blocks out the endless expanse of slums that reveal the massive wealth gap in South America’s biggest country.
And those favelas, and poverty in general, are part of the reason why millions of Brazilians have taken to the streets to protest the hosting of the World Cup.
Instead of spending to improve public infrastructure like the Brazilian government and FIFA promised, the tournament-allocated money ended up going toward the construction of stadiums. In addition, it allegedly went into the pockets of organizers while FIFA looked the other way in order for the nonprofit organization to turn a profit and add to its existing surplus of more than $1 billion.
FIFA claims no wrongdoing. And O.J. claims he didn’t do it.
Even though all the money went to the renovation or construction of 12 state-of-the-art facilities, problems still exist in remote host cities like Manaus and Brasilia — namely, what is going to happen to the stadiums after the World Cup?
Without first-division teams to house, these empty monoliths will turn into white elephants — useless, forgotten symbols of inland cities showcased a combined 11 times in the 32-day period.
One country playing in white elephant Brasilia will be Les Éléphants of the Ivory Coast, whose fans treat the World Cup as their country’s saving grace.
In 2005, the Ivory Coast qualified for its first-ever Cup. But led by captain Didier Drogba, the team refused to go to Germany unless the ongoing Ivorian civil war ceased.
The two opposing sides called a truce for the tournament and a peace treaty was signed in March of the next year.
Les Éléphants have qualified for every World Cup since and, after making a difference off the pitch, they will finally look to make one on it.
As the only debuting nation, Bosnia and Herzegovina is there to erase memories of its own war-torn past in the Balkans. The country’s three main ethnic groups — Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks — celebrated together in support of a united Bosnia that is still wounded from the ethnic tensions that have plagued the young country’s entire history.
The World Cup has both stopped and started wars (see “Football War, The.”) It has united and divided peoples. It taught some more about other cultures and confirmed stereotypes for ignorant others.
The tournament showcases man’s struggle with duality and society’s struggle with corruption (read: money).
There is nothing truer and nothing more fascinating.
My prediction: Argentina upsets Brazil in the final, creating a second national tragedy in Brazil’s hallowed ground.
But then again, who knows? Because as the great Gary Lineker once said, “Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.”
— Reach Evan Ream at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EvanReam