The world’s focus has turned to Rio de Janeiro and Brazil, which host the 2014 FIFA World Cup with matches beginning on Thursday.
Like many communities around the globe, Milwaukee has sought to capitalize on the intense interest in the matches by creating a soccer-friendly vibe across the city.
One local business owner, Mike Eitel, decided to construct a "Nomad Favela" alongside his Nomad World Pub, which is located at 1401 E. Brady St., but his idea drew a firestorm of criticism on Wednesday through various websites, blogs and social media outlets.
"We're not going to change the name, change what it is or tear it down," Eitel said. "That's not going to happen."
He then addressed some of the direct complaints about the idea, many of which leveled racist charges at him.
"These are people who didn't know what a favela was a week ago, much less what the word was, much less that there was even strife associated with the World Cup," he said. "There's a lot of discussion that can be had about not just what's going on in Brazil. There's a lot going on Brazil. Nobody up here gives a (expletive) or knows about it. Now they're talking about it. So we got that far, and that's what art's supposed to do, is create the discussion."
Eitel said The Nomad always creates "iconic" imagery of the host site of the World Cup, and it was impossible to build a mountain, create a beach, or replicate the Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro.
So, it made sense for The Nomad to "pay tribute" to the favela, because "that's the birthplace of street soccer," Eitel said. "It has a great passion for the game, the spirit of the people, the music, the art, the culture. We're celebrating that stuff."
The plan was to construct a bar and taco hut, along with a viewing area large enough to house six televisions. It wasn’t a singular effort, as Eitel enlisted the help of local artists and craftsmen to paint and build the enclave.
BelAir Cantina tacos were to be served, too.
"We're not diminishing it, we're not belittling it, we're not exploiting it or trying to profiteer off it it," Eitel said of the favelas in Brazil. "If I was trying to profiteer, I wouldn't have built the thing. I could've just put a bar back there and been like any other Milwaukee bar and just slapped something up and made loads of money."
Of the many who took exception to what Eitel is doing, EdgeOfSports.com Sports Editor Dave Zirin, who credited the blog ginandtacos.com for bringing The Nomad to his attention, was perhaps most the critical.
Zirin recently published a book entitled "Brazil's Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy," in which he illustrates the victimization of the Brazilian poor to make way for such global sporting events.
"He's not Brazilian. He wrote a book and he mentioned his book on the radio show, so it's like OK, you're accusing me of exploiting people for profit, and then you're mentioning your book about the favela," said Eitel, who appeared on WTMJ 620-AM along with Zirin earlier in the evening on Wednesday.
"Are you manufacturing that to sell a book? Who's the one profiteering on the favela? I would make more money if I didn't build the favela.
"So I don't see us changing course. We feel good about what we did and the intent of what we're doing and the fact that a lot of people donated a large mount of time and energy to it."
"I think it's good," Eitel said of attention, good and bad. "It created a constructive conversation and if it ends up being educational for people who don't know about what's going on in Brazil or don't know what life is like in a favela, that's great. My job is to create a really awesome space for my customers and art's job is to create a conversation. I feel like we did that."
"I stand by what we did. I feel it's a really cool thing and I think the people who come are going to think it's a really cool thing and enjoy themselves there."
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, has come under fire for its practices in determining the host countries for a World Cup, and Brazilians have protested its arrival.
"They're placing these World Cups in developing countries. Is it a good thing for those countries," Eitel asked. "It's showing in South Africa and Brazil that it's probably not. So there's a discussion about that.
"What my role is, is to put the art up, create a stage for my customers, make a statement. There was absolutely no intent to offend anybody."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.