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World Cup Soccer : Thoughts of Mexican People Far Removed From 1986 Games

December 18, 1985|GRAHAME L. JONES | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — Pages from a World Cup notebook . . .

It is late on a Friday night. The sun has long since slipped behind the mountains and night lies draped like a dark serape over the Mexican capital.

But the city is not asleep. In the Alameda, in the center of town, the brightly lit stalls of the vendors are surrounded by jostling crowds. There are those who have come to buy and those who have come to look. Either way, the sights and sounds, the cries and colors, bespeak a city far from ready to call it a night.

Traffic is heavy on the Avenida Juarez and heavier still on the Paseo de la Reforma. Below, the Metro rumbles through its subterranean caverns. At an astonishing quarter of a cent per ride, it is always crowded, but force your way aboard and no one complains.

This is the city that next summer will be the center of world soccer. The host city for the World Cup, although it is sharing the 52 games with eight other sites around the country.

Is Mexico ready? Can it successfully play host to a tournament that alone will bring an estimated 45,000 to 50,000 additional visitors to the country next May and June and contribute an estimated $150 million to the nation's economy, according to Alejandro Morones Ochoa, undersecretary of tourism?

All indications are that it can. As an example, the World Cup draw held here Sunday was carried off without a hitch, although the event was picketed by a few dozen people trying to draw attention to what they feel is the Mexican government's slowness in helping the tens of thousands made homeless by September's devastating earthquakes.

Joao Havelange, the Brazilian president of FIFA, world soccer's ruling body, made mention of the disaster when he said that attending the draw was "an emotional moment for me because two months ago I was here to offer FIFA's condolences to the families of the victims and sympathy to the Mexican people" in wake of the two earthquakes.

Havelange praised the Mexican World Cup Organizing Committee and the Mexican people as a whole for what he described as "your massive courage and fortitude in this time of trial," and said he was confident in the organizers' ability to make the 1986 tournament a success.

For now, though, it seems that the majority of the city's people are more concerned with clearing the earthquake damage and putting their lives back together. Time enough next summer to celebrate the World Cup.

Not far from the Alameda on this particular Friday night, demolition crews continued working under arc lamps, clearing the rubble of what, three months ago, had been the Hotel Regis. Nearby, the Del Prado Hotel with its arcade of shops, stood in partial ruin, collapsed floors and massively cracked walls testifying to the earthquakes' strength. Both hotels would have been filled with World Cup visitors next summer.

In the Zocalo, that gigantic square in the heart of downtown Mexico City, papers and debris are stirred by the night wind.

Stand in the wooden doorway of the centuries-old Sagrario Metropolitano, that huge stone edifice adjoining the even larger and even older Cathedral, and, by turning, you can see and hear that Mexico's concerns are far removed from soccer on this night.

Inside the old church, a late-night service is in progress, and the congregation, young and old alike, stands with arms outstretched in supplication as it responds to the chants of the priest.

Outside in front of the Palacio Nacional, a large crowd has gathered, and its arms and voices, too, are raised, but in anger not in supplication. The people are demanding reforms, justice, freedom for political prisoners, help in their time of need.

But the walls are stone, and stone is stone deaf.

The World Cup--and sport in general--seems far, far away.

Sixty years ago, when D.H. Lawrence found himself traveling through Mexico, it was a different place, a place of crumbly adobes, of sunlit patios and trailing bougainvillea, a place where the pace of life was slower and the quality, at least in the rural areas that Lawrence visited, better.

How else could he have written of mornings in Mexico where "there is a resinous smell of ocote wood, and a smell of coffee, and a faint smell of leaves, and of morning, and even of Mexico, because, when all is said and done, Mexico has a faint, physical scent of her own."

One wonders what Lawrence would have made of Netzahualcoyotl had he seen it Monday morning.

Netzahualcoyotl, or Neza as it is known for short, is one of the sites for next summer's World Cup. A vast sprawling city of more than 2.7 million, it is not the Mexico of the tourist posters.

No trailing bougainvillea here, just dusty unpaved street filled with mangy dogs and lined by squalid shacks of cement, corrugated iron and wood. No smell of coffee or of leaves here, what aroma there is, is altogether more unpleasant.

This is the Mexico of the urban poor, a place to open wide the eyes of those who think they've seen misery before. Boyle Heights looks like Beverly Hills by comparison.

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