World Cup Digest: More protests, Luis Suarez injury concern and tournament-inspired street art

This is our latest installment of "World Cup Digest" which will be published every Thursday afternoon from now until June 12 – when the games begin – rounding up all the stories happening off the pitch. 

 WHAT MONEY CAN BUY: Money can’t buy everything – love and happiness come to mind – but if you have $11 billion, then you can finance a World Cup. Well, you can finance the most expensive World Cup in history. It’s more than double what South Africa spent in 2010 and more than five times what Germany put down for 2006. The US’ total expenditure for 1994? Around $30 million.

About a third of the money being spent for this year’s cup is going to building stadiums, while the rest has been delegated to infrastructure projects, some of which have been cancelled.

TO THE VICTORS, THE SPOILS: Winning the World Cup has plenty of intangible value. For example, if you score the winning goal in the World Cup, four years later they might dedicate an ice-cream bar to you. Lifting the Cup will also have about $35 million worth of value for the victors. It’s the largest purse in the history of the Cup, but it’s also pocket change compared to what FIFA is raking in: $4 billion. On the other hand, the stock market in whatever country happens to win is likely to see a bump in the aftermath of the Final. 

SPOILER ALERT: Brazil is going to win the World Cup. Here’s 67 pages of analysis by Goldman Sachs to prove it to you. 

CAPITAL CLASHES: Plenty of ink has been devoted to covering the World Cup protests in places like Rio de Janeiro, where the Seleccao’s bus was surrounded by an angry mob as it departed for its training ground, but on Tuesday the arrival of the World Cup trophy in Brasilia sparked a round of demonstrations in the capital. Members of the Homeless Worker’s Movement marched on the Mané Garrincha National Stadium in condemnation of the most expensive venue built for the Cup. The demonstrators were also joined by local Indians, and reportedly one police officer sent to confront them was shot in the leg by an arrow.

There will be nearly 170,000 security officers deployed during the tournament.

SOCCER AS PUBLIC HEALTH RISK: Of course, even if you’re not going to Brazil to catch the games, a World Cup summer can still be a dangerous time. Research has shown that the tournament is “typically accompanied by a surge in heart attacks, suicide, depression, assaults, road accidents, binge-drinking and pigging out on artery-clogging, waistline-expanding junk food.” Enjoy the Cup, everyone! 

PLAY ON: Even after being sued by the Brazilian players’ union last week, FIFA has staunchly refused to change kick-off times for day games. The concern is that the temperature would pose a health risk to the athletes, but FIFA has downplayed those concerns, saying that “the venues with the highest average temperatures such as Manaus, Cuiabá and Fortaleza do not have any matches with 1 pm kick-off times during group stage.” The Federation did concede that medical officers could impose cooling breaks in the game under the right circumstances, but that it would be decided on a game-to-game basis.

RACE TO THE FINISH: FIFA made their final round of inspections on the 12 stadia that will be hosting World Cup games this past weekend. FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke insisted that there was “very little to worry about,” but independent reports paint a different picture. Of course, even once the stadia are finished and the fans are in their seats, FIFA will still have to endure the boos and jeers that will accompany president Sepp Blatter’s appearances.

WHEN SPONSORS ATTACK: Itau is the largest bank in Brazil, and one of eight companies in the country to sponsor the World Cup. If you think that somehow exempts them from outrage, prepare to be disappointed. Itau’s CEO said last week that “we haven’t done a great job,” in preparing for the tournament, adding that “Brazil is much better than that.” Brazil’s deputy sports minister, however, insists that the country will be able to deliver a “fantastic” tournament

MEANWHILE, IN GERMANY: Germany is famous for its Autobahn, that magical road where there are only efficient, German motorists and everyone can go as fast as they damn well please. With that said, Germany’s national soccer team had a hell of a week behind the wheel. Mannschaft midfielder Julian Draxler and defender Benedikt Howedes were riding in the backseat of two different race cars for a Mercedes promotional video when one of them, driven by professional driver Pascal Wehrlein, crashed into two pedestrians who had walked onto the closed course. No one in the cars was injured, but there’s been no update on the condition of the two hospitalized pedestrians. Meanwhile, Germany head coach Joachim Löw had his license revoked for six months as punishment for speeding and talking on his cell phone while driving. The two incidents come just a week after striker Kevin Grosskreutz was caught urinating in a hotel lobby.

HERRERA’S HOUSE: It’s probably not unusual for World Cup coaches to impose strict rules on their teams, but Mexico head coach Miguel Herrera sure picked some strange ones to enforce. El Tri has been warned to not eat any beef in the lead up to the tournament – an attempt to prevent the athletes from testing positive for clenbuterol, a banned muscle-building drug that has been used by the Mexican cattle industry to fatten their livestock – and while they are in Brazil, they are to abstain from any… ahem… intimate relations. “If a player can not endure a month or 20 days without having intercourse, then you are not prepared to be a professional,” Herrera told reporters. 

THE CHURCH OF SOCCER: Feeling bummed about missing games because you’ll be working? What if you could get out of it by, say, claiming a religious exemption? Sounds crazy, but a Brazilian beer company is insisting in its new ad campaign that if you claim soccer as your religion, your employer will be forced to let you off in order to practice your faith. Namely, by watching the World Cup. If you’re skeptical, you’re not the only one. A professor of labor law at Sao Paulo University says that the Brazilian constitution “guarantees freedom of belief and religion, but with no special labor rights concerning these beliefs.” If you want to skip work, you do so at your own peril.

ACADEMIC INTEREST: While we’re on the subject of professors, did you know that they are not all boring? Famed scientist and Englishman Stephen Hawking partnered with betting service Paddy Power to take a crack at analyzing England’s chances at the World Cup, and while he wouldn’t make a prediction, he still managed to come up with some pretty compelling statistics. At the University of Rochester, the humanities have gotten into the spirit of the game. A wing of the translation program is holding the World Cup of Literature, pitting one book from each of the 32 countries participating against each other in a bracket-style competition. The criteria? Books have to be “readable,” and published after 2000. Deadline for suggestions is June 10. In the meantime, here’s a list of really good books about soccer that you can read before you have to actually consume any literature. 

SALUTE THE SHORTS: The Republic of Ireland will not be participating in the World Cup. So why are we talking about their shorts? Funny story: The Irish have worn white shorts with their green jerseys from time immemorial, but earlier this week they trotted out for a friendly against Turkey in green shorts. And why not? Green is Ireland’s national color. But apparently the decision was not taken by the Irish Federation, but by FIFA, who have mandated that all teams have two sets of uniforms: “One predominately dark and one predominately light for its official and reserve kit.” While not all teams have followed suit, teams wearing adidas kits mostly have. That means that Germany, who have been wearing black shorts with their uniforms since 1908, will be ditching that tradition for an all-white kit. Ditto for Argentina. Prepare to be weirded out by the way teams look this summer.

SHIRT TRADE: Versace made a shirt to commemorate the World Cup. It is presented here without comment. To be honest, we’d much rather focus on the proliferation of our favorite electric mouse on the shirts of the Japanese national team. Yes, Pikachu is apparently a massive Samurai Blue fan, and if you happen to be in Japan this summer, you will not be able to forget it.

PATRONS OF THE ARTS: Art and sports are generally seen as two distinct entities, but the lines are getting blurred in the lead-up to the World Cup. The plane that the Seleccao will be using to get around for the tournament is eye-popping, to say the least, but even if you never catch a glimpse of it, the same aesthetic can be found on buildings all over Brazil.

The anti-FIFA graffiti that has become a backdrop to the World Cup has gotten progressively more elaborate, profound and profane over the last weeks, but there is also excitement to be found in places like Manaus, where the Brazilian flag is now an ever-present feature of the landscape.

Even Haiti, who isn’t going to the World Cup and hasn’t been since 1974, has caught the World Cup art bug when it comes to decorating their municipal minibuses. ESPN, meanwhile, has released their own line of posters to commemorate the tournament, and while they are awesome, it is perhaps more worth your time to take a look through the pictures of every official World Cup poster dating back to 1930.

IN VOGUE: While we’re on the subject of art, let’s examine the soccer-themed photographs that came to us from Vogue magazine this week. For example, here is a photo of Cristiano Ronaldo and girlfriend Irina Shayk in which arguably the best soccer player on earth is fully naked. That cover ran in Portugal, unsurprisingly, while the Brazilian cover of Vogue featured Neymar and supermodel Gisele Bundchen. The FC Barcelona star was conspicuously not naked.

MY HERO: England’s Wayne Rooney has been getting himself ready for the World Cup by watching video of his favorite player: Ronaldo. Yes, that Ronaldo. The one who has the most goals in World Cup history. If Germany striker Miroslav Klose has anything to do with it, however, that record won’t be his after this summer.

LUIS SUAREZ: The nation of Uruguay almost collectively died of shock last week when their favorite son – who was the subject of an excellent profile by ESPN this week -- went under the knife to repair his knee. The Liverpool hitman still might make it to the tournament, but that knowledge hasn’t stopped the death threats from coming in to Newcastle’s Paul Dummett, whose tackle on Suarez in the final game of the Premier League season got him sent off. Contrary to the usual platitudes that teams usually give about wanting to face their opponents at their best, Steven Gerrard says that England have a better chance of beating out their group stage opponents Uruguay with Suarez out of the lineup. That will make for an interesting conversation when they both return to Liverpool next season.

INJURY ROUND-UP: Diego Costa didn’t make it past the ninth minute of this past weekend’s Champions League final, and he may not make it to the World Cup, either. Croatia’s Niko Krancjar, Germany’s Lars Bender and the Netherlands’ Rafael Van der Vaart, meanwhile, have all been ruled out.

LOOKING FORWARD: After losing out on the 2022 World Cup bid, there were some who believed that the US was a lock to land the 2026 tournament. They might yet be the strongest candidate, but it’s a moot point if they don’t want to host the tournament. “The answer is maybe,” US Soccer president Sunil Gulati said in response to questions about a potential 2026 bid. “Maybe we’ll bid ... we’re not going to bid unless the rules of the game are changed.”

ACCOMMODATIONS: The early bird doesn’t always get the worm, it seems. With just weeks to go before the World Cup, travel companies that booked hotel rooms years in advance are now flooding the market with the ones that haven’t been filled yet. Bottom line: If you are looking for a hotel room in Brazil right now, you can get one for not very much money. If you’re looking for something a little more upscale, you can try Airbnb, where Ronaldinho – yes, that Ronaldinho – is renting out his Rio de Janeiro mansion for a little over $15,000 per day. It will certainly give you a better experience than the hotels where England and Italy are staying: Both were raided by Brazilian police this week and ordered to throw away more than 450 pounds of spoiled food. The hotels incurred an additional fine for a lack of condoms. Really.

THE IDIOT’S LANTERN: Economists may be concerned that the World Cup will have a negative effect on retail sales in Brazil, but the one industry that can be fairly assured of its success this summer is the electronics industry. As happens every four years in Brazil, new TVs are selling like hotcakes. That said, all over the world the humble television will become a large part of every soccer fan’s life, even if it means pedaling a bike to generate electricity. Thank ESPN’s “One Time Zone” spot for the idea if your power goes out. Easily the most compelling World Cup ad to date, however, comes out of Chile, where the 33 miners who were trapped underground for over two months in 2010 returned to their former prison to exhort their national team to “battle to the end.” How is that not going to motivate you?

In the US, our motivational ads are just workout videos with the same cinematography as a Godzilla trailer. No matter what we see or whether we like it, though, it doesn’t diminish the amount of work that it takes to actually broadcast the World Cup. Here’s an infographic to show you what Sony has had to do to get ready, but they won’t have the only cameras in the building. Fans around the world will be able to catch video of each team’s pre-game huddle thanks to balls embedded with eight cameras to give a 360-degree shot. One thing we won’t be able to see is the new dramatic film about FIFA. Starring Tim Roth and Gerard Depardieu, the movie cost $32 million to make.

BLAME FIFA: FIFA is by no means infallible, but there are limits to what you can blame them for. Not that people aren’t trying. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is using the World Cup as a scapegoat for the dramatic drop in flights in and out of the country, saying that the planes that would be flying to Caracas are instead being routed to Brazil. It has nothing to do with the fact that airlines are not being allowed to move the proceeds of their ticket sales inside Venezuela out of the country, he says. Other things you can blame on the World Cup: Terrible cellphone service in Brazil, and disappointing showings at the box office for summer movies.

STAGES OF GRIEF: Whether you agree with the decision or not, Landon Donovan’s exclusion from the US World Cup squad was a shock to the system. Broadcaster Ray Hudson didn’t pull any punches when it came to voicing his disgust with the decision. Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had months to come to terms with the fact that he won’t be going to Brazil. He’s progressed past the point of outrage; now he’s just cruising around Stockholm in his $845,000 car

MACEDONIA’S NATIONAL ANTHEM: You probably don’t know it by sound, but trust us when we say that this is not it.

COPYRIGHT: If you change your Twitter avatar to the World Cup logo, FIFA will come after you

(UN)OFFICIAL: Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez are credited with the official song of the World Cup, but Shakira is now challenging that musical hegemony with her own unofficial song. Take your pick

BOYS OF SUMMER: Bosnia and Herzegovina’s participation in the World Cup marks the first time that the country has participated in a major international soccer event since they became independent in the early 1990s. The players on this Dragons squad were only children during the terrible war that ravaged the country back then, but that doesn’t mean they don’t remember it. To them, this summer is at least in part about bringing a divided nation together and to bring closure to a tragic past. 

ACTUAL GOOD NEWS: The Swiss government is considering expanding money-laundering laws. Proposed changes would mean that both FIFA and the IOC will be subject to those laws.


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