Friday, November 15, 2013

Hey, We're Just Concerned

Today, I present a piece from Grantland by Brian Phillips. Phillips' article concerns the run-up to the World Cup in Brazil, but then again, it really kind of doesn't. The real point of the article is twofold: to highlight how various people in the journalism industry are reporting on the run-up to the World Cup: namely, through the use of fearmongering code words.

To be sure, Brazil has plenty of issues regarding their preparation for the World Cup, but the issues of major importance are mostly social issues questioning whether hosting the World Cup is a wise idea when the money can be spent on schools and hospitals and improving life in Brazil's shantytowns instead of engaging in the usual pre-World Cup/pre-Olympics practice of hustling the poor people off to somewhere the cameras aren't going to be so that the rich may party while the poor suffer.

The equivalent reporting on Qatar, plagued by corruption, concerns for the safety of players in the Middle Eastern summer, related concerns about the effects on the world soccer schedule should the World Cup need to be held in the fall or winter, and worries about the lack of rights for foreign guest workers who end up functionally enslaved, has been focused in the right place. Today, for instance, the major story concerns French player Zahir Belounis, who has been trapped in Qatar for two years, unable to obtain an exit visa over an argument with authorities that he has gone unpaid for those two years. While the rest of the world has called for action, FIFA has come out with a statement saying they are "unable to intervene", citing the excuse- and 'excuse' is the operative word here- that Belounis sought recompense in a local court instead of FIFA's in-house Dispute Resolution Chamber, and so they have decided to leave him to his fate. Taking Belounis' case and ruling in his favor, of course, would further damage Qatar's credibility to host the World Cup, which has been under fire ever since the original announcement, and anger some very rich interests who have given FIFA a lot of money.

With Brazil, although some of the reporting has been focused on the social issues, and it was in fact the main subplot of the Confederations Cup earlier this year, up to and including FIFA being so tone-deaf to the protests that they announced the official champagne of the World Cup in the midst of the Confederations Cup protests, other reporting has not been so focused. Phillips uses a pair of beheadings that have taken place in Brazil this year, one stemming from a low-level soccer league and one only tangentially related to soccer at all, and shows how the reporting of these events- rare as they are; beheadings always are- has caused some reporters- this piece from Anna Jean Kaiser of USA Today is presented as one example- to "raise concerns" about tourist safety at the World Cup. The train of thought from that phrase, "raise concerns", to what you are supposed to take from it is outlined, step by step. What you are supposed to take from it, specifically, is a primal fear that if you travel to Brazil for the World Cup, you will get beheaded yourself. Which will absolutely not happen, isn't getting listened to given the high ticket sales, and in the process of worrying about something as unlikely as that distracts from the real, legitimate issues Brazil has concerning the World Cup.

It would, for one, put local organizing committee CEO Ricardo Trade's request to the protesters with legitimate concerns not to hurt the tourists in a far more sinister light.

This is one more example, if you were not already aware, of the need, difficult though the task may be sometimes, to pay attention to what the word choices in articles mean. It's not always the political articles that will get you. Sometimes it's the stories in the rest of the paper that get you when your guard is down.

Brazil has enough issues surrounding this World Cup. Let's not go make more.

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