(August 10th, 2011) My last week in Rio did not disappoint. I tagged along to one of Daquiprafora’s soccer showcases for talented teenagers hoping to procure scholarships to universities in the United States. (Daquiprafora is an organization that contracts with U.S. colleges specifically for Brazilian students). On the way out to the playing field in Recreio, the staff-U.S.-educated Brazilian athletes- and I stopped at a Walmart (yes) in Barra for ice. I scowled the entire time, much to the bemusement of my company. (WHAT is a Walmart doing in the Cidade Maravilhosa? I see nothing maravilhosa about this.) The games themselves were pretty cool to watch, simply because the players were so good. But, as one of the staff members pointed out, most of the kids on the field need full rides to even consider attending university in the States. Chances are unlikely for the majority, if not all, of the players we saw that day. The bittersweet experience was topped off by dinner at the Outback Steakhouse. (But Caira, why are you laughing?!? It’s so good!) I sat in incredulous silence for the better part of an hour while my companions conversed in Portuguese over a Bloomin’ Onion.
Later that week, a friend and I hopped a van to Rocinha to check out the government-implemented Sports Complex. We were forbidden from taking pictures but were allowed entry and accompanied by a very enthusiastic, very tatooed Rocinha resident and tour-guide. It was a good looking complex, but peering over one of the crosswalks at the trash-strewn water treatment facility provided some insight into why we weren’t allowed to photograph anything. Also, as the tour guide pointed out, sports are great, but what about Rocinha’s open sewer system?
Finally, I spent 2 hours shuttling up to the Madureira neighborhood to look at one of Nike’s sports initiatives. I took the metro downtown and then a rather unsavory train over to the North Zone of the city. I spent most of the 40 minute ride avoiding a crack addict who insisted on jabbing me in the shoulder, repeating “bom dia” and asking me to hold one of his little cardboard signs. When I exited the train, I wasted 15 minutes wandering around in pursuit of what I thought would be a building. One mugging (someone else’s, not mine), three gunshots and several near home-retreats later, I entered the lobby of a high school where someone was kind enough to lead me across the street. Turns out the sports initiative was not so much an enclosed entity as it was a…situation? beneath a giant concrete underpass. Literally. Now, call me crazy, but I hardly thought that the colorful graffiti and Nike jerseys compensated for the fact that children playing football under a mountain ton of traffic is really not that spectacular of an idea. I’m hesitant to knock it altogether because the exuberance with which the girls were playing was really cute, but the space was dark and the noise of cars and the nearby construction-site drilling was deafening. That, and Nike only fronts the costs for the soccer materials; The local partner organization funds the space’s other sports and classes. Unimpressed.
So..now what? The ideas and perspective I brought to Rio de Janeiro about the World Cup’s potential as a catalyst for positive change were dismantled. I’m taking home some invaluable contacts and a serious case of disillusionment. I still find the topic fascinating, I’m just not sure where my sentiments fall between the two polarities of the debate over sports as a tool for social transformation…but I suppose that just means my work isn’t finished.