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Shougat Dasgupta
A Fan’s Notes

Does the ‘Great Game’ need state-of-the-art faicilities to thrive?

y the time you read this, the quarterfinals for the World Cup will have been played. But this piece will have been filed before the World Cup resumed on Friday night with Germany taking on a resurgent France. So there is little point speculating here about the quarterfinals; about exciting matchups living up to their potential, about a great team, or two (Brazil? Argentina? Time to wake up and give us that dream final) emerging from the pack; about a rousing, rollicking World Cup ascending to greatness. By the time you read this on Sunday, the answers to those questions will be known.

Instead, the two-day break from the games in Brazil has been an opportunity to catch up on sleep, or turn your attention to the tennis. So little has happened since a tense, dramatic second round of matches that the English newspapers are still relying on Luis Suarez for headlines, expending more hot air (albeit from a limitless supply) on the negotiations between Liverpool and Barcelona than on any of the quarterfinalists in Brazil. These last two days have foreshadowed the long, fallow weeks that lie ahead until the football season begins again in August.

What will we do without the football to sustain us? Caught up in a tournament as intense and relentless as the World Cup, life outside the drumbeat of players' studs as they emerge into sunlit stadiums, the ambient white noise of stadium crowds through television speakers turned low, the unfamiliar blare of foreign national anthems begins to seem fuzzy at the edges, soft and out of focus. Perhaps it also has something to do with the time difference between India and Brazil, but I feel like I've had jet lag for a month, moving through days like a zombie through quicksand. The World Cup itself has passed like a fever dream, stretches of vivid, colourful, sometimes surreal action interrupting black sleep.

How do we readjust? How will Brazil readjust? The mass protests which marked the weeks leading up to the tournament have subsided into the anticipated soccer carnival, into newspaper images of fans dressed in national costume and women wearing little more than face paint. FIFA must be relieved. A first round full of goals and compelling games, the emergence of players like James Rodriguez, the excellence of stars like Lionel Messi and Neymar, the madness of Suarez, has meant the corruption and arrogance of the game's governing body is off the agenda.

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It is Brazil’s exuberance for football and its unparalleled history of success that makes it a logical choice to host the World Cup; not needless, expensive, unfinished infrastructure projects designed to project Brazil as an international power, a leading member of the BRIC charge to lead the world.

he recent collapse of an overpass in Belo Horizonte and the death of two people and injuries to tens of others serve as a reminder of the justice of popular protests. Brazil has been a marvellous host despite its World Cup preparations, not because of them. It is Brazil's exuberance for football and its unparalleled history of success that makes it a logical choice to host the World Cup; not needless, expensive, unfinished infrastructure projects designed to project Brazil as an international power, a leading member of the BRIC charge to lead the world.

Countries continue to see hosting the Olympics or the World Cup as a national showcase. Mussolini and Hitler cottoned onto the potential of these games in the 1930s. National pride doesn't have to be sinister and, even if a little archaic, it makes sense in the context of the Olympics — the tussle for medals between China and the United States a benign reflection of the 21st century's "Great Game". But must the World Cup follow suit?

The World Cup has its own rules, its own powers. Wealth and size means little. Europe has the money and a dominant professional structure but South America competes at an even keel. The United States, despite the game's growing appeal and the pluck its team displayed at this World Cup, remains a non-factor. A country the size of Costa Rica can embarrass England and Italy, while Germany needs extra time to beat Algeria. The world plays football and plays it well. It's always been a poor man's game, with no particular requirement for equipment or space beyond a ball (one made of rags will do) and a small patch of earth.

When the sport is so simple why is the World Cup such a behemoth? Why must hosts build "state of the art" stadiums? FIFA doesn't even care much about the surface, so does keeping fans safe require the hosts to spent $3.6 billion as the Brazilians did? I hope the rest of the World Cup, however entrancing, does not succeed in stifling the protests against FIFA. India should register its own protest. The corruption which likely led to the World Cup being awarded to Qatar has led to the deaths of hundreds of Indian labourers and will lead to the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, more. It is the enslaving of our people aided and abetted by our government. How is that what football, the game of poor people everywhere, has come to represent?

 
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