Monday, June 7, 2010

Dunga the Mouda

-by Tontongi

I have been watching football (a.k.a. “soccer” in the United States) ever since childhood. The epic ascendance of Pelé, late 1950s early 1960s, coincided with my own developmental upbringing; it was hard to avoid its impact.

In Haiti, soccer was already experienced as a religion, due in part to the great pride Pelé inspired to millions of Haitians. The entire Brazilian National Selection became a kind of second home — sometimes even the first home, considering how many Haitians would root for Brazil when they played against their own national team!

Pelé was the new working class hero. From the perspective of the tyrannical Papa Doc regime, Pelé’s popularity and glorification provided the necessary distraction that kept people from paying too much critical attention to the ambient political oppression that was taking place. This charming expediency worked marvelously until 1985-1986. Still football was a joy, and throughout my pre- and early adolescence, the jogo bonito was an enriching experience. Now a few words on the current World Cup, particularly the Dunga-Ronaldinho bizarre affair.

Like many soccer fans, Brazilian or otherwise, I felt a sense of injustice for the exclusion of Ronaldhino from the Brazilian World Cup squad of 2010. Coach Dunga’s decision was so obviously biased and petty; I saw it as an abuse of power and of coach’s prerogatives. If the World Cup represents a real effort to recognize and celebrate the athletic talents of soccer players around the globe, it is absurd that a superbly fit Ronaldinho, Adriano, Pato or Neymar (to speak only of the Brazilians) are not part of the selection merely because of subjective considerations by an egomaniac coach.

In truth, despite its unfairness one can also understand Dunga’s action/reaction as a human being, although it way over-punishes the initial affront. When Ronaldhino was at his prime at Club Barcelona in Spain, winning local and Champions League competitions in Europe (2006-2008), he refused to play — claiming fatigue — for the newly appointed coach of Brazil National Selection, Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri, also known as Dunga, who was facing his first serious test as a coach in the Copa América of 2007. Unwavering, Dunga built a new selection under the leadership of Robinho, Elano, Lucio, Maicon and Baptista. They won the 2007 Copa América against a powerful Argentinean rival that included Messi, Tevez, Riquelme, and Veron, beating them 3-0 at the final. Kaká also refused to play at that Copa América for the same reason, but because of his excellent form throughout the 2008-2009 season, or for other reasons I don’t know, he seems to have mended fences with Dunga. That was never the case with Ronaldinho, who said recently in an interview (a few days before the May 11th call-up) that the last time he spoke with Dunga was the previous December, that is six months prior, when Dunga asked him to regain his form.

Personal ego should not be a criterion for important decisions, be they in politics, business, war, or sport. Dunga’s snub of Ronaldinho has been vastly criticized. The World Cup Organizing Committee’s CEO, Danny Jordaan, called it regrettable, saying : “I sometimes think these coaches [believe] they are gods and are out to prove they can do anything they wish... They become blinded by this sense of power.” He called Ronaldinho a “soccer genius” who has talents "enjoyed by few in the game, both past and present.” (Associated Press, May 12, 2010)

The following poem on the non-selection of Ronaldhino started as a knee-jerk reaction of mine, as both a poet and a football/soccer fan, to the unfair human drama that was unfolding before my eyes. Of course, in the realm of objective analyses of and concerns for human conditions, this Ronaldinho thing is a mere mystification. Mystification as theatrical wrestling can be. Except that Dunga may seriously think that a Ronaldinho that would go to the World Cup just to play a beautiful game, the jogo bonito, would be an impediment. Why? Because for Dunga — and unfortunately for the new trend in sport episteme and valorization —, winning is everything, the ultimate goal and finality. Playing to enjoy the beauty of the game is out of the question. This new trend can, of course, only encourage cynicism and the flowing of personal ego trips.

As I read an online article in the New York Times about the Brazilian team selection, I wrote a quick poem in which I called Dunga a mouda, which means ass in Haitian. Of course, the NYT didn’t publish it, and I didn’t expect them to, given that they haven’t published anything I sent them (oftentimes accusatory repartees to coverage or absence of coverage I found unsatisfactory).

A few days later, having not noticed my poem among the published comments, I wrote and sent them a modified version of the poem, this one less overtly insulting to Dunga, but still disagreeing with his decision and still calling him a mouda. (Do they publish poems in the online “Comments” section? I didn’t even ask myself this question!)

Although I expected this second poem to be rejected as well by NYT, I was half surprised that they didn’t just publish it, just for the heck of it. Structurally and grammatically, it was OK, perhaps not the best the English language can produce, but still among the refreshingly emotional impulses one puts in writing to convey dissent, or to affirm a different way of feeling.

It was at that juncture that the idea of writing a trilogy of poems and a blog essay came to my mind. A trilogy that transcends together the NYT’s limited horizon, language use policing and acceptable discourse in a multicultural, multisocial and multilingual society. Unfortunately, the trilogy idea provided no better solution. The third poem, repeating the bad lines of the other two, was a total disaster. It didn’t take me long to figure that out! At this point of inquiry, the New York Times no longer matters. Not willing to accept defeat — ne pas m’avouer vaincu — , I finally decided to use all three poems as raw material for a new poem. Poetry is hard labor, a labor of love, you know.

A last word: Sport has these weird characteristics — shared by philosophy, literature, religion, politics, and pop culture — that can make you personally involved in its on-going, never-ending drama. My first sports hero was of course Pelé, followed by Guy Saintvil (a.k.a. “Ti Guy”) of the Haitian National Selection squad that participated in the 1974 World Cup, the first ever by a Caribbean country. We were so proud of that team, even though it didn’t make it past the first round. The team’s first goal in its opening against powerhouse Italy suspended the entire nation in a euphoria of unimaginable elation. Foutbòl can do that to you. For better or for worse.

-Tontongi, Boston, June 7, 2010

Sport Metaphorics: Dunga the Mouda

Power as metaphor
Pelé caught in a contradiction
saying one day one thing
the opposite the next
one day against Ronaldinho’s butting
few days after the boss had spoken
he was all over backing Dunga’s edict.

Dunga takes away the poetry from the game,
poor soul who sullied
the spirit and its solemnity
Ronaldinho loves the game
you can see it in his smiles
you can see it in his plays.

The power-holder got his way
the losers are the fans,
the loyal believers,
mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers
wanting to enjoy the jogo bonito;
the game has lost
and the people with it.

This thing must be seen
plainly translated à vue d’oeil
for the idiotic slight that it is
to the least as a human frailty.

Power as metaphor
human bestial instinct
even in the sportive realm
has perverted the ideals
of plays and games,
human physical prowess
for recreational aims.
Completion of the adventure of being.
The body and the soul
in osmosis in the complétude d’être,
except that a mono-maniacal ego soul
can anytime withhold the pleasure
enjoyed from the jogo bonito.

Who cares about Dunga the Mouda
amid real life’s calamities and horrors, amid
Port-au-Prince under siege by nature
and by neo-colonists of the Earthquake Commission
looking to reestablish the long past golden days?
Who cares if Gaucho or Neymar or Gousse are bêtes noires
of an ego entangled in self delusional quest?
Maybe the people still care. Maybe.

-Tontongi, Boston, June 7, 2010

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