When I was perusing Deadspin a couple of days ago, this article about “the sex trade” in Brazil and how those in “the profession” were “preparing” for the World Cup, a strange dissimilitude completely left me numb.
Why in the world would Brazil let a story like this get out especially when they are up to their eyebrows in corruption and other crap (actually!) all associated with the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics?
Well, for one thing, prostitution is legal in Brazil, has been since 2000, and, of course, there is nothing like marketing for those “eager” turistas just frothing at the mouth to taste the indigenous attractions!
On 1 June 2014, Ewan MacKenna, a free-lance British reporter released a scathing story on how prostitution in Brazil was ramping up (“preparing”) for the World Cup. The story was picked up internationally, from the Times of London to the Times of India to the Nigerian Times, among others.
MacKenna revealed how the Brazilian prostitutes were taking classes in English since there will be many Brits attending the competition and, after all, English still is a universal medium of communication.
His story goes on to describe the conditions which await the eager fútbol
Fans whose wanton curiosities will lead them to somewhere, as MacKenna writes, “like a cross between a run-down prison and a hostel even the earthiest backpacker would turn away from. The floors are concrete, while the corridor extends past door after door into cell-like rooms where women lie.”
How romantic! A fan can travel half-way around the world ostensibly to follow his team in the World Cup and get the “flavor” of the event in a concrete cell with a woman he doesn’t even want to know!
What a fan! What a sport!
I am not naïve enough to think that such lurid “extra-curricular” proclivities do not follow the vast majority of events of import where participants and attendees can revel in their anonymity. Whether it be a political convention, a championship sporting event, or any function which attracts large numbers, practitioners of the oldest profession will find their ways there.
What strikes me is the blatant advertising of the availability of this “product” from a country reeling from the dichotomy of the uber-rich to the absolute destitute.
Brazil’s poverty is well documented, as MacKenna cites, and serves as a rationale for why so many Brazilian women turn to prostitution: “…but necessity trumps choice in a nation of close to 200 million. The statistics are stark: Illiteracy averages 10%, reports say 13 million are underfed, 42,785 were murdered nationwide last year and there is a national shortage of 168,000 physicians.” And it was suggested that in 2000 when prostitution was legalized, there were as many as one million prostitutes.
The overwhelming majority of sex workers come from the destitution of poverty institutionalized in the “favelas”, or “slums”, which encircle the centers of wealth in Brazil.
Exploitation of the favelas was a project of the late pop singer, Michael Jackson who, along with film director, Spike Lee, traveled to Rio in the mid-1990’s in an effort to expose the rampant poverty in those favelas. They were politely “escorted” out of Brazil before their video could reach full production.
Perhaps some of you fans of the “Fast and Furious” movies remember “Fast and Furious 5” which pointedly exposed how the favelas were used by the very wealthy in Brazil.
David Zurin has written a very indicting book titled, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics and the Fight for Democracy. In it he chronicles the travails of those in the favelas, the corruption of those who campaigned for the bids to the World Cup 2014 and the 2016 Olympics. It is being released sections at a time on Deadspin throughout the World Cup – might be worth digging into.
What I find so sad is that a beautiful country like Brazil, rich with natural resources, the Amazon River Basin, the extensive rain forests, has sold its soul to land the big fish in the sporting world – the World Cup and the Olympics.
Brazil has a history replete with exploiting the underprivileged. Poverty there is legendary. And I reflect on what Mahatma Gandhi said of poverty: “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” What can be more violent than to take a precious young woman as a child and give her no options other than to “sell” that which is God-given and sacred?
Have the males in Brazil turned so callous that they can exploit their cousins’ daughters and consign them to lives of emptiness bereft of any form of dignity, and no hope of becoming anything more than another’s “object” for momentary carnality? And to be despised and derided for it?
So Zurin’s book title seems appropriate – a “Deal with the Devil.” Is that really the price Brazil will ultimately pay for going “all out” to win the bids for the World Cup and the Olympics?
Yet, as the prostitutes busy themselves preparing to make the best of the situation by learning English, by preparing their cell phones to take credit cards and the other things nuanced by their particular “craft”, I will be wondering as I watch the matches in the World Cup whether Brazil will have believed that it was worth it all.
Now do not misconstrue me as a latter day paragon of moral certitude on a campaign for “purity.” I am far from that. But I am certain of these facts about sport: 1) it began as a religious function at the foot of Mt. Olympus through which its participants were to give homage to the gods by exhibiting the perfection of human fetes; 2) sport today still embraces the notion that its participants represent the highest ideals and aspirations of the human condition, which includes the celebration of individual human dignity; and, 3) exploitation of any aspect of sport, in its promotion, its functioning, or its execution reduces its importance.
But then, maybe Bob Seger, my favorite rock ‘n roller, had it right in his 1977 song “The Fire Down Below”: “All through the midnight/ Watch ’em come and watch ’em go/ With only one thing in common/ They got the fire down below.”
And would it make a difference for Brazil to capitalize on that “fire down below” just so long as it landed the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics?
Dr. Arthur Ogden is Chair of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy. He has worked in higher education for more than four decades. He has served as a college dean, vice-president, president, football coach, and athletic director. He is a published author and poet and writes a weekly column on issues facing America. He has also served on NCAA committees and on the All-American Football Selection Committee.