Inside the New Stadiums, You Could Be Anywhere

Where Is the World Cup Actually Happening?

Inside Brazil’s stadiums of old—the original Maracanã, the Mineirão, Castelão, Verdão, etc.—there were no clocks, just crappy scoreboards with broken lightbulbs. Everyone knew to look at their watches or listen to the radio if they wanted to keep up with the time and the score. Indeed, many of the best known, most beloved stadiums in Latin America are minimalist structures designed to hold tens of thousands of people for two hours as they jump up and down, light fireworks, and tumble over each other. They are not be the most comfortable places to watch a soccer match (or do anything else), but they are actual places. Stands are for standing. If they weren´t, they would be called something else. The new stadiums are cleaner and more comfortable, but they are non-places. These Brazilian stadiums could be anywhere, which makes them feel as though they are nowhere in particular. Once inside, the outside is closed off and the spectacle is secured.

This is the first World Cup in Latin America since 1986 and the first in South America since 1978. That is a long time. International travel has expanded dramatically and the middle classes have grown. This time, there were at least 70,000 Argentines in Rio for their match against Bosnia. Dozens of them jumped over the walls of the Maracanã. Some of the 40,000 Chileans did the same thing tonight. In Brazil and South America more generally, we are used to this kind of thing and the police reaction it brings. At every match there are hundreds of huge men with bigger guns ready to pounce on fans. And while there is a problem with violence in Brazilian football, treating everyone as a potential criminal is not the solution. When I see the excessive number of military police lining the approaches to the Maracanã, it doesn´t seem that out of place because that is how every game is. It is absurd and yet normal at the same time.

What isn´t normal is the kind of atmosphere that has been produced inside and outside the stadiums.

After the Spain-Chile match, I walked over and sat in the same place where I had sat when the last game was played at the old Maracanã back in 2010. I don´t remember who played. Thirty minutes after the final whistle, the stadium was empty, the floodlights were off and the cleaning crew came in. There was a profound, rattling silence. The ghost of 1950 moved among the monumental stands where hundreds of millions of Brazilians had experienced life at its fullest, creating the beautiful game. There was no giant television screen, no post game music and no security guards to move me along.

After the game tonight I was assaulted by piercingly loud advertisements. The televisions screamed “BUY THIS SHIT NOW!” while Chileans tried to celebrate their historic victory over Spain. The sound from the PA system was so deafening that it made me want to leave as soon as possible, but I resisted. The Chileans were drowned out and left.Twenty minutes later, the stands were empty and the advertisements went silent. In their place, some decent, pre-programmed Brazilian music wafted out of the loudspeakers. The stewards kept angry eyes on the departing Chileans and the all-black cleaning crews readied their brooms.

On the way out to the metro, the Chileans were in good voice, and I sat to give a telephone interview on a metal bench at the Coca-Cola stand. The scene around me was sad: no beer vendors; no food vendors; nowhere for people to congregate; thousands of police. Looking past an Itaú bank stand where I could have gotten instant credit, my eye was caught by a fancy new Hyundai, the official FIFA fan shop and a Johnson and Johnson stand that advertised a “Caring Stadium.” When the Military Police confront protesters, there are never any ambulances standing by.

All of this global corporatism is directly in front of a 19th century building that formerly held the Museu do Indio, Brazil´s first indigenous museum. The museum was deactivated in 1978 and laid vacant until 2006, when it was occupied by members of different indigenous ethnicities. The Aldeia Maracanã, the community that formed around the occupation between 2006 and 2013, was forcibly and violently removed to prepare the Maracanã for the World Cup. The justification was that the building would have to be destroyed so that fans could more easily exit the stadium to get to the metro. Now, fans have to walk through an consumerist obstacle course where Fuleco and Brazuca block the path. Expelled from the stadium, we are ushered into a sanitized zone of corporate feudalism where the violence of dispossession is hidden behind the shields of riot police and dulled by the happy buzz of a spectacle well-consumed. What we cannot see is what is out of place at the Brazilian World Cup.