#politicsandthepressSaturday, July 5, 2014
Dilma, Cristina and the Cup
For The Herald
Interchangeably, journalistic agendas can be either simpler or more complex than the public’s agenda. Press narratives, as narratives since the beginning of time, need the good and the bad featured prominently in an ever-lasting fight to the finish.
The World Cup is not (only) attractive because of the quality of the soccer displayed on the pitch — an attribute that would only lure true fans — but because the games carry that eternal life-or-death drama, in a plot filled with heroes and losers, good and evil.
Life outside the pitch, however, tends to be filled with greys rather than blacks and whites. In doubt? Ask Presidents Cristina Fernández de Kirchner or Dilma Rousseff.
The tale coming from Brazil in the year prior to the World Cup was one of a traditionally football-mad nation suddenly so much madder about its government that it had decided to take it to the street en masse to express discontent. No lie: the protests existed and many people were angry at the sight of public works concentrating on the majestic stadiums and their whereabouts instead of the daily lives of ordinary Brazilians. The sight of Rousseff being heckled by her fellow torcedores at the opening match in Sao Paulo was good enough evidence that even if Brazilians would support their national team they were not willing to give the government any credit for anything that would happen in the country during the World Cup month.
Not so quick. This week a poll showed that Brazilians are happier than expected both with the World Cup and with their president, who is by the way seeking re-election in October. The survey conducted by Datafolha showed that 60 percent of the people were proud of the organization of the tournament, up from 45 percent just a month ago (the collapse of an overpass that killed two in Belo Horizonte on Thursday may bring that number down). The poll was carried out nationwide via face-to-face interviews with 2,857 people. The president’s approval ratings among voters rose to 38 percent from 34 percent in June. Her main contender Aécio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB) scored 20 percent, only up one percentage point from his previous 19 percent.
But not so quick, again. Recent history has shown no clear correlation between football and electoral results. In World Cup 1998 in France, Brazil lost the final to the host but President Fernando Henrique Cardoso was reelected. In Japan-Korea 2002, Brazil won the Cup but the ruling PSDB lost to the Workers Party’s Lula Da Silva. In Germany 2006, Brazil lost to France in the quarterfinals but Lula Da Silva won his re-election. In South Africa 2010, Brazil was knocked out by Holland also in the quarterfinals but the ruling party retained the presidency with Rousseff. Follow the data line and President Rousseff’s October 3 fate will arguably be settled on the pitch this week.
Once the ball stops rolling, reality finds a way to bite back, Luis Suárez style. With the debate about Neymar & Co. psychological strength to cope with the pressure reigning supreme this week, the news on Wednesday from the government statistics agency IBGE that industrial production fell 0.6 percent in May from April has gone largely unnoticed. It is the third consecutive monthly decline and it signals the Brazilian economy is not planning to pick up anytime soon — at least not before voting day.
Back home, Argentina is back on the field today with the mission of breaking the quarterfinals line for the first time in 24 years. But the local news agenda has also shown an extraordinary ability to keep moving despite the football frenzy.
Regardless of whether Messi drives the team to the final next Sunday, the Fernández de Kirchner administration will continue to face difficult options in the two hot potatoes dominating the public agenda: the negotiations with the holdouts of Argentina’s debt restructuring and the indictment of Vice-President Amado Boudou. In the two cases, there are no palatable options and no clear win available. “Here I am, saving penalties, with a referee against us,” the president said last week.
The top of the list for the administration’s game plan should be avoiding own goals. Just like Argentina’s goalie “Chiquito” Romero, the problem for the president is that her first line of defence does not seem strong enough and her government team may not have noticed that it is time for a little rough tackling rather than stylish dribbling.
The good news is that keepers can also become heroes. Argentina once had one: Sergio Goycochea saved a series of key penalties to get Argentina to its last final in World Cup Italy 1990. And the US is worshipping Tim Howard for delivering 16 spectacular saves that kept his team in the game against Belgium this week for as long as they could (Howard even got a thank-you call from President Obama). The bad news is that great saves do not mean victory and goalkeepers are more often than not heroes in the losing teams.