Saturday, 21 June 2014

The dangers of beatification

Nelson Mandela

We like to think of saints as pious and pliant people. We like to think that they spent their whole life in a convent, praying. If they did meddle in politics, they meekly suggested something to a politician and something changed.

Most saints were rebels. Joan of Arc defiantly confronted her English prosecutors. The most quoted evangelist, Jesus Christ, confronted authorities. He was a deeply political figure in that he tried to preserve the rights of his people. Subsequently, clerics and figures of power have turned the figure of Christ to their advantage. As the 'Grand Inquisitor' scene in The Brothers Karamazov points out, if Christ had come back during the Spanish Inquisition and made the same claims, he would have been detained and tortured.

The passing of Nelson Mandela alarmed me in some ways. The praise and glorification was unanimous. The Daily Mail, which had branded him a 'terrorist' in his life time, followed suit. Now, Nelson Mandela was a brilliant and admirable figure, but his secular beatification turns him into a one-dimensional figure. We forget his achievements and we forget his faults.

We should remember Mandela as the courageous activist who fought apartheid. We should remember him as an eloquent and articulate orator. Instead, we forget about racial segregation and all we have is the figure of a cuddly and lovable man. His presidency was without his faults: the economy dipped into the tail-end of his rule, racial divides continued and he maintained neo-liberal policies. This, too, is overlooked.

All the nuances  will be forgotten and what we will have instead is this nebulous figure. People will continue to adulate him, which is a good thing. But they will not adulate him for what he stood for nor for what he did. What they will instead adulate is a global image and a one-dimensional saint. Worse still, politicians and figures of power use him for their nefarious interests when they were his oppressors during his lifetime.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Why I don't look forward to the world cup

It's every four years. The manna of football tournaments. Chile is competing. Chile has quite likely its greatest ever team. Yet I don't look forward to the tournament.

I should. By all means, I should. My first world cup was 1998. Chile participated. Boy, do I have fond memories of that world cup. Ever since, I eagerly await the next installment every four years.

My main gripe is the football, not the politics involved. It should be the politics! (More on that later.) But the slipshod organisation results in a slipshod world cup. It's so carelessly organised that all the teams are in the wrong places. The wrong teams advance; the wrong teams get knocked out.

Don't get me started on the previous world cup. Chile were in the same group as the champions, Spain. We finished second in our group, after narrowly losing against the Spaniards, and were knocked out against the behemoth that is Brazil in the second round.

This year, things aren't any easier. We are in the same group as both tournament's finalists, Spain and Holland. If we do get out of the group, we will probably have to face Brazil.

Why does this happen to Chile now? Just when we are producing this great generation of players? When we are playing this irascible, fluid football? And it's not like we are the minnows who will easily be pushed aside. We will give Spain and Holland a tough time. But the reality is that they have greater individual talent and they will probably beat us.

The teams are allotted different seeds before being placed in each group. There are four seeds. So one team from Seed 1 goes to Group A, one team from Seed 2 also goes to Group A etc. The seeds were a joke. They were based on the Fifa rankings, which are notoriously unrepresentative. The Fifa rankings are based on points you go accumulating over friendlies and competitive matches. It does not matter which team you play - as long as you win games, you accumulate points. An incredibly tedious team like Switzerland is in the top seed. This is because, during the qualifiers, they had to play teams like Israel, Liechtenstein and Andorra. Uruguay were in the top seed. How do you justify seeding a team which has to qualify through a play-off? Chile would have been in the top seed if only competitive matches counted, barring friendlies.

In the last world cup, Uruguay were semi-finalists. If Chile had been in their group, we would have done the same. (On the way there, they had to play South Korea, South Africa, Mexico and Ghana.) They have a reputation. They are a well-organised team, granted. Not world-class.

The world cup will be marred by several protests and justifiably so. Billions have been invested into the tournament whilst Brazilian citizens have protested for better transport, less corruption and better education. None of these billions - invested by the Brazilian government - will be recouped. The construction of stadiums has been slow and several workers have died. Hardly any world cup has produced a profit for the hosts. South Africa were promised water irrigation systems but, when the tournament was over, they simply left. The world cup matches command astronomical prices, so hardly any of Brazil's working class will see any of the matches. Most recently, Fifa have been accused of bribing. I like football. I like to watch the game. I even like the tribalism that comes along with it. Yet it's becoming less and less possible to like if these disgusting technocrats like Blatter remain at the helm of Fifa.