By Richard Wyatt
As a big fan of football, and someone who loves Latin American culture, I am naturally very excited about Brazil hosting the World Cup. I am looking forward to see if Neymar can live up to his hype, some dogged performances by Tiago Silva (possibly the best defender in the world) and seeing if Hulk/Jo/Fred will be good enough to lead the line of a World Cup winning team. I am also excited to see the Maracana stadium and the vibrant culture of Brazil on my TV every day.
However, I have some niggling doubts about whether it is right for a developing country like Brazil to host a mega event like the World Cup (not forgetting the Olympics in two years’ time). Before I get accused of being a European imperialist let me say that I’m sure the World Cup will be a great event and I will love the tournament all the more for being in the global south. However, I do have doubts over whether it will be the right thing for the people of Brazil, which is a country where the richest 10% of Brazilians receive 42.7% of the nation’s income, while the poorest 34% receive less than 1.2% despite the positive efforts to cut poverty by the Workers Party (the current party of power).
My first doubts started to arise during last year’s Confederations Cup (eventually won by Brazil) when thousands of people took to the streets in protest, initially against a rise in bus fares, but it soon snowballed into a protest about wider issues of money wasted and corruption around the World Cup. The legendary footballer-turned-politician Romario has surprised many by becoming a leading figure of the burgeoning protest movement. Romario has been a surprisingly erudite and outspoken critic: “I’m not against the World Cup, I’m against the excessive costs … FIFA comes here, establishes a state within our state, sovereignty above our sovereignty, and leaves with two or three billion dollars in profit. And then what happens to the white elephants they built?”
Those white elephants described emphatically by Romario are of course the stadiums hosting the World Cup. Question marks over completion, safety and cost remain – there have been seven deaths at various grounds during construction, whilst Sao Paulo’s and Curtiba’s arenas are yet to be finished. The cost of building Brasilia’s World Cup stadium has nearly tripled to $900 million in public funds, largely due to allegedly fraudulent billing, government auditors say. The spike in costs has made it the world’s second-most expensive football stadium, behind Wembley, even though the city has no major professional team, leaving the stadium impossible to fill once the World Cup has finished.
The arguments in favour of holding the World Cup in Brazil are put into the public domain on a regular basis. The first and obvious one is for footballing reasons: Brazil has an outstanding footballing tradition and deserves the chance to host the World Cup. Another one is the use of “Soft Power” by the Brazilian government of showcasing the country and showing to the world how far Brazil has come whist simultaneously selling Brazil further to the world – creating business opportunities. Many argue that the World Cup will bring a direct economic boost to the country through job creation and infrastructure improvements created by the influx of tourists and public spending around the championship. Additionally some believe that the benefits of the World Cup go much deeper than simple economics, such as leaving a legacy to inspire the youth of Brazil, much like the ‘Inspire a Generation’ campaign of London in 2012. It can also be pointed out that the Social Movements of Brazil are able to use the World Cup to gain extra publicity to force social change which would not be possible without the world’s gaze.
However, going by past experience, World Cups rarely bring the economic uplift promised by politicians. This is due to fans not spending as much money as predicted around the ground, with many independent vendors not being able to sell outside the ground unless they are an official FIFA vendor such as Coca Cola (even Pepsi are prohibited). For example, according to the journalist Simon Kuper, in the World Cup hosted by the USA in 1994 none of the cities which hosted a game saw an economic uplift compared to non-host cities. In Euro 96 the UK government predicted it would generate 250,000 visitors but it fell well short at 100,000 visitors. According to a Liverpool University study, Liverpool (a host city) generated a total of 30 jobs all of which were temporary.
After the World Cup 2002 most of Japan’s stadiums now lie unused and in Poland (host of Euro 2012) they have also beenleft with unprofitable five star hotels which had to be built for officials and teams. If you wanted to regenerate an area why don’t you simply spend money on regeneration projects instead of sporting mega events?
There have also been considerable problems which have been unique to Brazil. Tens of thousands of residents of Rio’s favelas are being driven out to the city periphery in order to cater for the World Cup and the Olympics in 2016. Advocates of favela families have estimated a displacement of around 170,000 people (the government claims 20,000). The Brazilian government has also launched theFavela ‘Pacification’ programme in order to reclaim these areas from drug lords and criminals which may seem to be a laudable aim. However, in reality, this programme isdesigned to hide the violence and drive the drug gangs away from the places that will be popular during the major global events Rio is hosting. Critics have also claimed that it doesn’t seek to integrate marginalised people into society and it doesn’t work towards long-term solutions. In most cases pacification projects are endless military occupations that fail to protect the people.
The Brazilian government passed a new ‘terrorism’ Bill ahead of the tournament in June. Law 449/2013, aimed at potential terrorism, makes ‘disorder’ a crime. Any civilian attending a protest – regardless of whether they have committed a crime or not – could be imprisoned for peacefully demonstrating. The Brazilian police who are in charge of maintaining this order are often not trained properly in dealing with mass demonstrations and are often criticised as being unreformed from the time when Brazil was a military dictatorship.
If this was not enough the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), and in particular its President Jose Maria Marin, have been criticised for corruption. On January 25 2012, during the medal ceremony of the Copa São Paulo de Futebol Júnior, he controversiallypocketed one of the winner’s medals that would be handed to Corinthian’s player Mateus. Marin was also a member of the party of the old military dictatorship and he has been linked to the death of the journalist Vladmir Herzog in 1975. Marin had previously made several public speeches criticising Herzog.
The most convincing argument for any country to host a World Cup is the evidence that such events lead to increased happiness within the host nation, which was put to me by Simon Kuper in his excellent book Soccernomics. Kuper claims that using the European Commission’s happiness barometer shows there is a clear jump in happiness in countries which host large sporting events. However, another important finding from his research was that in general Europe is no happier now than it was fifty years ago even though income has doubled. This highlights two key factors. Firstly, that extra happiness brought by events is even more impressive. Secondly, it also highlights that there is only a link between happiness and income for those who earn less than £11,000 a year, which is very few people in the Global North showing that investing in mega events in the developed world may be tangibly worth it for the wellbeing of their populations. However, Brazil like South Africa before it, have large swathes of their population which live on way less than £11,000 a year so therefore the money spent on the World Cup would be much better spent improving people’s happiness by spending more on education, health care and creating sustainable jobs.
As someone who is deeply interested in the politics and culture of the Global South, it is with a heavy heart that I say, for the benefit of the people living there, that global mega events should not be held in developing countries at the moment. This is unless they can be fully subsidised by rich nations in the North, which is probably the least these countries could do for the hardships they have inflicted on the South through slavery and imperialism. What is your opinion?
This blog is based on an article originally published on: www.givemygoalstoabetterworld.blogspot.co.uk
Richard Wyatt is a Secondary School Teacher and Postgraduate Student studying Sociology of Sport and Exercise. He has a particular interest in the effects of sporting events on local communities and the links between football and politics in the Global South. He can be followed on Twitter. He also blogs here.
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