Pelé: Why Soccer Matters, Part 1
by Kim Haas
We are hours away from the beginning of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. With 32 nations participating, the World Cup is the most popular sporting event on the planet. World Cup attendance is expected to reach 3.7 million people with an estimated 3.6 billion viewers. Held every four years, Brazil plays host to this year’s games in 12 cities across the nation including: São Paulo, Salvador and Rio de Janeiro.
Connecting to the big game, los afro-latinos presents information about the game’s most popular and prolific player – Pelé (Edson Arantes do Nascimento). Pelé began playing professional soccer at the age of 15 and joined the Brazilian national soccer team a year later. He’s an Afro-Brazilian who grew up in economic poverty in Bauru, Brazil.
His career spanned 2 decades. During that time, he won three FIFA World Cups, 1958, 1962 and 1970 and is the only player with that distinction. Pele’s honors are too many to cite here. Two of them are: (1) he was declared a National Treasure by Brazil and (2) he was designated the best FIFA scorer, scoring 1281 goals in 1363 games. Rumor has it that during the 1960’s 2 warring Nigerian factions agreed to a cease fire so they could watch Pele play in Lagos.
Pelé was magic in the air, flying vertically and horizontally, dazzling fans with his athleticism, quick thinking, field vision, power and passion for the game. He’s credited with coining the term “o jogo bonito” (the beautiful game) when referring to soccer.
In this 2 part series, los afro-latinos spoke with writer Brian Winter, co-author with Pelé of the recently published book, “Pelé,“Why Soccer Matters.” Our conversation explores Pelé’s deep admiration for his father, his love for soccer and Pelé’s position as a global icon and role model.
LAL: There are lots of media reports here in the United States about Brazil not being ready for this year’s World Cup. You’re in Brazil. Please share your thoughts. Is Brazil ready?
BW: Well they’re not ready. The stadiums, it appears, are going to be mostly done. I mean mostly. If you took all 12 stadiums and assigned a percentage it looks like we’re going to be 97, 98%. That’s just a guess. The important work (stadiums built) is done. Areas around the stadiums look like construction sites; not only in São Paulo but in Cuiabá, Curitiba, Natal and some of the other cities. I was at the São Paulo stadium yesterday before the last test match, before things opened up, and there were still missing chairs and the first game is in 10 days. As far as the various festivities, I suspect fans will be able to get in and see the game.
LAL: You’ve been in São Paulo, Brazil for a little more than 4 years. Brazil had 7 years to prepare for the World Cup. What are some of the reasons Brazil is not 100% ready?
BW: Part of the problem is what Brazil promised FIFA, the world and most importantly its own citizens, it would do, 7 years ago, when it first won the right to host this tournament. They (government) talked about using the World Cup as an opportunity to do a broad overhaul of dilapidated infrastructures. That was a general promise and then as recently as 2010 the government outlined all these building projects and airport improvements and other things. Some of those projects are going great but about half of them will not get finished in time for the Cup. So that’s a pretty high percentage of failing to deliver.
Brazil is not a country that has historically done big planning. It’s a country that relied on throwing a bunch of people at a problem, when it can’t quite finish the logistical planning and construction aspects. This is a problem in construction in general. And not just in sporting events. This was the case at the stadium I entered yesterday where there were all these issues with unfinished construction. And, there were literally hundreds of people, police, FIFA volunteers, other sort of groups set up by the local government standing around waiting to help. That’s historically the way things are kind of handled here and it looks like it’s probably going be the case with this event as well.
LAL: Where does Pelé stand in terms of how money is being spent for the World Cup?
BW: I can sort of describe what he’s said publicly. He’s been very critical (of the amount of money spent). And he was critical long before it was fashionable to be so here. Back in early 2011 he warned publicly that Brazil ran a risk of embarrassing itself during the Cup because of all these logistical problems. And at the time people kind of rolled their eyes at him and said, oh come on everything’s going to get sorted out. And here we are on the eve of the Cup and it’s not sorted out. It’s obvious that Brazil’s preparations are going to fall significantly short of what they were supposed to be.
LAL: For months, thousands of Brazilians have protested the government’s over spending on the World Cup and lack of investment in public services and infrastructure. Pelé has asked Brazilians not to protest during the Cup. Do you think that’s going to happen?
BW: No. The issues are too serious. There are groups of people (and labor unions) that are determined to go out and try to wreck this tournament. If that’s the mission, I don’t think they’ll succeed but they will disrupt. I have no doubt about that.
LAL: Have the police force and other security groups been trained to effectively deal with protest?
BW: I guess they have been trained. By Latin American standards certain police forces in Brazil can be quite disciplined. I mean that in a good way as a compliment to the police—but the spotlight here is going to be awfully bright and there’s going to be a lot of quite disturbing protesters. For that reason I fear that at least a few games are going to get pretty ugly.
LAL: Where will you be on June 12th ?
BW: I’m going to go as a civilian to at least one game and apart from that I’m going to be covering it as a reporter. And on the 12th I’m sure I’ll be in the writer’s office watching not so much the game, unfortunately to my distress as a soccer fan. I’ll be watching more from a news perspective looking at the protests and some of the things that are going on beyond the white lines (soccer field).
LAL: Do you have any predictions on what to expect during the games?
BW: I think there will be some significant logistical problems and the protests are going to get pretty ugly. I think most visiting fans will have a good time.