Review: The March of the White Elephants (2015)

March of the White Elephants (2015)In The March of the White Elephants, Director Craig Tanner continues the work he began with his first film, exposing the societal insanity of spending billions on stadiums for a one month soccer party.

Tanner covers the same issues in WC 2014 Brazil that were true for WC 2010 South Africa. His first film, World Cup Soccer in Africa: Who Really Wins? (aka Fahrenheit 2010), was released just prior to WC 2010. It questioned how much the country would benefit when its resources were so badly needed elsewhere.

But in this second film, Tanner captures the before and after of the 2014 tournament, and he bolsters his position with the known outcomes of the South African stadiums that became White Elephants. He thoroughly challenges the “popular misconception regarding the supposed benefit of a World Cup to the host nation”, particularly when stadiums must be built to meet FIFA specifications.

This film starts the year before WC 2014, when Brazilians begin protesting the misuse of resources. People living in favelas (slums) have no water, sewage, electricity, hospitals, or schools. People are kicked out of housing to make way for stadiums and parking lots. Protestors and journalists are bullied or shot by police, who are trained for military action and don’t know how to handle largely peaceful civilian demonstrations.

Government leaders admit that most of its citizens cannot afford to attend any soccer games. The cheapest WC tickets, strictly for Brazilians, cost $25, but the average weekly salary is around $150. The airport infrastructure does not help the common people, who never fly. They would have been better off with an improved railway network. WC 2014 is really for the tourists, not the low income. FIFA ignores the issues of worsening inequality and deep poverty. Professor Chris Gaffney points out that:

FIFA’s “spectacular symbols of global consumption” are built at the expense of a generation of children.

Once the tournament begins, it initially raises national pride. But then, Brazil’s team is eliminated by Germany in the worst rout of its history. And when the tourists all leave, the country has to face paying its bills, a collapsing economy, an angry populace, and the truth about its government.

Tanner shows how some of the 12 stadiums, some built in far-flung locations with small markets of fans, have already become a new set of FIFA White Elephants. Looking at TripAdvisor reviews, it appears that most of these stadiums generate revenue as parking lots.

  • Arena Pantanal – $265M 46,000 seats in Cuiaba for a few hundred fans
  • Mané Garrincha – $844M 70,000 seats in Brasilia for <1,000 fans
  • Arena das Dunas – $187M 40,000 seats in Natal for <10,000 fans
  • Arena da Amazonia – $311M 40,000 seats in the Amazon jungle of Manaus for <3,000 fans
  • Arena de Pernambuco – 46,000 seats in Recife built 20 km from city center

Subsequent to the film, there are examples of disrepair, disuse and misuse:

  • Clube Náutico Capibaribe, one of the 3 local teams in Recife, contracted to use Pernambuco. Its attendance fell to <500 fans. and as of Jun-2017, could not pay its players, and is trying to return to its old stadium.
  • A porn film was shot in the Maracana.
  • On the positive side, Corinthians took over the new stadium in Sao Paulo, and the old stadium became the Museo do Futebol (Football Museum), which is quite fun!

FIFA published a “Setting the Record Straight” document that Brazil spent $15 billion, while FIFA spent $2 billion and received $4.8 billion in revenue. Some of this document is contrary to what is presented in the film.

In this film, Tanner also covers the aftermath of South Africa’s WC 2010. Its stadiums–the first set of White Elephants–are suffering a similar fate.

Professor Ashwin Desai likens the now-empty stadiums of South Africa to the pyramids: built by slaves who are not allowed to enter them. FIFA’s promises are “a lesson in how you can be duped.”

Now the true cost of WC 2010 is known: $6 billion cost to South Africa, with $3 billion profit to FIFA. And so it goes. FIFA urges host countries to step up on the world stage and perform, but instead of putting on a ballet, it’s really a lap dance.

If Craig Tanner’s excellent football documentary doesn’t get you riled up about FIFA, then check out these other soccer movies: Planet FIFA and World Cup Soccer in Africa: Who Really Wins?

In Portuguese and English with English sub-titles. 52 minutes.
Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8

Released: 2015-07-09 (South Africa)
Director: Craig Tanner an Australian Barrister born in South Africa
Stars: Patrick Granja ,  Romário de Souza Faria
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