Some news is so erratic and unbelievable, that I have to pinch myself in order to check if I am not dreaming.
On Sunday June 8, I read such a news story in Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad (www.ad.nl) about the Brazilian protection for the Dutch national football team at the World Championships Football:
The internationals of ‘football team Orange’ are used to a thing or two, but the security operation at the World Championship Football (i.e. Soccer) in Brazil must be ‘the mother of all security operations’.
After the people’s protests, which broke out last year during the Confederations Cup, the Brazilian government has outsourced the protection of the 32 participating football teams to the Brazilian army. And that army is not exactly ‘going through the motions’ when it comes to this operation.
When in Rio de Janeiro the Orange players’ transport coach wants to drive from the hotel to the training field, it is escorted by a genuine column of security vehicles.
First, sixteen heavily armed militaries guard the football players from the outside world during their short walk from the hotel lobby to the players' coach. Afterwards, these militaries jump in an army vehicle to escort the coach. In the aforementioned security column, there are also police vehicles with blasting sirens and other security people present.
Last Friday, the ride from the airport to the players’ hotel was escorted by a police helicopter as well, of which at some occasions three are simultaneously airborne.
And believe it or not, but yesterday morning there was even a battleship present to protect the Dutch players: close to the beach of Ipanema and right in front of the Orange players’ hotel.
All these security measures have been the result of earlier riots, which broke out at the Confederations Cup one year ago, and which are expected at the current World Championships as well.
The Brazilians are outraged, as many millions of dollars have been invested in football stadiums: they argue that the money could have been invested in healthcare instead.
This news message is the umpteenth proof that the security hysteria around large sports tournaments and global political events has gone completely through the roof.
The ubiquitous demand for total security, for participants and officials at such events, has reached a level whereby it virtually becomes impossible to organize such events at all; at least for smaller countries and countries which are not total police states, but that instead respect the freedom and basic rights of their citizens.
Nobody even blinks anymore when whole cities, airports and vital highways in a state or country are closed down, because the President of the United States decides to drop by for some chitchat.
The recent Nuclear Safety Summit (NSS) in The Hague led to dozens of sharpshooters on various rooftops, anti-missile installations at strategic positions in The Hague and Scheveningen and batteships close to the Dutch coast, which had to ensure a secure perimeter, stretching to more than 50 miles of Dutch coastline. Both the areas of The Hague and Schiphol Airport were territory under siege. During the NSS, the overcrowded Dutch highway system could have become so locked-up theoretically, that many commuters counted their blessings and instead decided to take a day off or worked from their homes.
We experienced similar over-the-top security measures during the Beijing, London and Sochi Olympic games and currently the security is likewise during the World Championships Football in Brazil.
Of course, one can argue that the current levels of (terrorist) threat, as well as the unpredictable ways and behaviour of modern protestors and extremists, enforce these draconic measures during these global events. Add a few spoons of societal unrest and it becomes clear that such security measures are really unavoidable.
However, you could also turn things around:
Is the main reason for the elevated levels of threat and societal unrest during such political and sports events not that normal people feel very much infringed in their freedom, their own security and their daily life?
Have these normal citizens, with their daily issues, not been forced to play an involuntary role in these “toy events for the elitist rich and famous”?
In case of the Nuclear Safety Summit, these infringements took only a few days; in general, they were generously accepted by the Dutch people, without further protests and hesitation.
However, in case of the recent Olympic Games, these infringements could go on for years.
How many houses and personal belongings of people have been destroyed, in order to make way for the grandiloquent Olympic venues and infrastructure during the last decade?!
And how often normal citizens have been treated as second rate people, in comparison with the government leaders and the representatives of the Olympic family or the FIFA, who have been treated as medieval kings and queens?!
In case of Brazil, there is a country with a very rich elite, but also a normal population that often lives under extremely poor and dangerous circumstances.
The outcries of this population that the billions and billions of dollars, spent at the 2014 World Championships and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, would have been better invested on social security, education, safety, crime control and the fight against poverty, is of course totally justifiable.
The same is true for China, Russia, Greece and – to a lesser degree – even the United Kingdom; also a nation in which the economic prosperity is quite unequally divided among the population.
Of course, organizing such events as the Olympic Games or the World Championship Football brings status, national pride and new prosperity to the organizing countries.
However, in most cases this new-found status, national pride and prosperity do not balance out at all against the prosperity that the spent money would have brought, would it have been spent upon the poor and middle class population at the areas that I mentioned before (i.e. social security, education etc…).
Or does someone really think that Russia and China have become better and more competitive countries from their Olympic Games?!
Or that Qatar will become a better country, from its World Championship Football in 2022?!
Perhaps you should ask the abused and underpaid stadium builders in Qatar for their opinion..., but you have to hurry to speak with them before they die in yet another fatal accident or as a consequence of structural exhaustion and overheating.
It is time to look very hard at such monster events as the WC Football and the Olympic Games and to bring them back to human proportions.
A proportion in which these events can really be a kind of celebration for the whole population and not just a status symbol of power and wealth for the powers-that-be in the organizing countries.
And perhaps we all should do the same with the security and protection at global political events, like the Nuclear Safety Summit or the G8 summits. Politicians deserve protection, but the protection should not turn countries in sieged territory anymore.
Perhaps, we then can sent our battleships back to their homeports, in order to wait for events that hopefully never happen. And not use them to protect the Dutch football team, for G*d’s sake.