The World Cup Conundrum: A Legacy of Loss?

Pele, Ronaldinho, Kaka. To the common layperson, these names may not mean much, but to football aficionados, they hold the same rank as St Paul or St Joseph do to devout Catholics: holy figures, to be admired and worshipped for their dedication to their cause and their prowess in the field (pun intended).

All three are Brazilian football champions, revered by all who appreciate football, regardless of which team they support. Brazil is renowned in the football world for having produced many of the most prolific players ever to grace the campo, more so than any other Latin American country. The Brazilian national team has won the Federacion Internacionale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup – the quadrennial international football tournament – five times, most recently in 2002 against Germany in South Korea. Football is the lifeblood of Brazil, and the country was thus an ostensibly reasonable choice for the host of the 2014 World Cup. In his letter to the FIFA executive committee, chairman of the inspection team for the 2014 World Cup, Hugo Salcedo, extended thanks to the citizens of Brazil “for their palpable love of and passion for football.”

Image courtesy of Marcello Casal, © 2007, some rights reserved.
Image courtesy of Marcello Casal, © 2007, some rights reserved.

In 2007, when Brazil won the bid to hold the World Cup, the country’s economy was growing, albeit slowly – economic reform instituted under President Lula da Silva ensured that Brazil “enjoyed continued growth that yielded increases in employment and real wages,”[1] though at a slower rate than neighbouring Latin American countries[2]. Elected in 2002, da Silva pledged to focus on economic growth, and his policies – which emphasised high interest rates, low government expenditure, and a floating exchange rate – reduced Brazil’s vulnerability to fluctuations in the global market and effectively insulated it from the 2008 financial crisis.

The economy continued to grow steadily as the government changed hands in 2010, with da Silva replaced with Brazil’s first female president, Dilma Rousseff. The unemployment rate hovered at 6%, and economic growth stood at a respectable 7.5% [3] However, the country was still blighted by infrastructural problems and huge income inequality, compounded by perpetual security concerns amid a population that – despite their football fervour – still yearned for improvement in social services and education.

The literal – and figurative – cracks in the socioeconomic infrastructure became wider as time wore on, and by 31 December 2013 – the deadline for the completion of construction projects for the World Cup – FIFA President Sepp Blatter expressed his frustration at Brazil’s lacklustre progress, stating that, “No country has been so far behind in preparations since I have been at FIFA, even though it is the only host nation which has had so much time – seven years – in which to prepare.” Four months prior, protests erupted in Brazilian cities over the 8% increase in bus ticket prices, catalysing a country-wide movement of indignation over inflation, corrupt governance, and mismanagement of public money, most notably on grandiose projects such as the World Cup. Brazilian citizens believe that hosting a ‘mega-event’ in a country with inadequate social services and slowing annual economic growth is spurious and that funds are “channelled predominantly towards sport projects, at the expense of health, education, and safety.” Protests against the football tournament have carried on to this year, with multiple uprisings in Brazil’s main cities featuring Brazilians holding signs that say “Don’t come to the World Cup.” [4] A poll held in February 2014 showed that only 52% of Brazilians supported the World Cup, a far cry from the usual 79%[5] and incredibly low for a country in which football is largely considered the national pastime.

The previous World Cup – held in South Africa, another emerging economy which was added to the association for budding national markets, BRICS, in 2010 – raised hopes that it would raise the profile of and bring lucre to the host country; to a certain extent, this occurred, with an “economic spill over” to multiple industries, including accommodation and automotive transport, and the establishment of commercial ties to travel and construction companies which invested in sports and infrastructural development. [6]

This is likely to happen again – according to Moody’s Investors Service, FIFA 2014 will bring an increase in revenue for food and beverage, lodging, car rental, TV broadcasting and advertising sectors during the games, due to the influx of tourists (an estimated 600,000) and a spirit of futbol-inspired commerce among the 3 million Brazilian nationals expected to attend the games.

However, as seen in previous host countries, the economic boom is short-lived, and the only real beneficiaries are both football associations – such as FIFA itself – and huge multinational companies, such as Coca Cola and Budweiser, whose corporate sponsorship has led to global exposure and boosted profit. [7] The South African world cup ultimately cost $3.8 billion, ten times more than originally planned[8], and as the starting date for the 2014 World Cup approaches, the budget is slowly ballooning: over the course of snail-pace development, the budget has increased from R25.5 bn ($11.4 bn) to R28 bn ($12 bn)[9], without any substantial amelioration of public services.

Many of the construction projects due to be initiated will displace Brazilian citizens, resulting in the exacerbation of poverty and homelessness in Brazil’s numerous favelas. On 23 April, one of the largest bouts of public violence erupted in a slum adjacent to the Copacabana tourist district in Rio de Janeiro over the death of a local dancer at the hands of police forces. Since 2011, the Brazilian government has been increasing police and military presence in slums as part of a ‘pacification’ initiative that aims to tighten security before the World Cup. This has led to massive slum-clearing – essentially ‘social cleansing’ – on the peripheries of major cities, permitted due to an essential blank check by the government to Brazil’s notoriously corrupt and unscrupulous police force.

South Africa managed to make the most of the World Cup – previously neglected in the global arena, the Cup managed to give the country political and social clout, boosting investor confidence as well as improving social and racial cohesion in a historically divided country. The deficit incurred through hosting the cup was justified by the creation of new jobs (unemployment in 2009 stood at 24%) and a spurring of the tourism industry. Furthermore, exploitation of construction workers in the build-up to the event caused the first nation-wide builders strike in South Africa, and inspired the Building and Wood Workers’ International to begin a “Campaign for Decent Work Towards and Beyond 2010” – which “was historic in the sense that it was the first large-scale, systematically implemented trade union campaign in connection with a mega sports event.” [10]The Cup gave South Africans reason for national pride, and catalysed a burgeoning football culture that is making use of some of the stadiums erected for the purpose of the tournament. It was an event that took the pariah state that South Africa so often was and ‘rebranded’ the country to mean more than just apartheid.

The same cannot be said for Brazil. Equipped with a booming tourist industry and low unemployment, as well as increasing socioeconomic division and crippling poverty, Brazil is not in the optimal position to host a mega-event. The lack of progress on basic infrastructural improvement – i.e. building hotels, expanding airports, creating a direct railway between Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro – could lead to a Sochi-esque debacle that would embarrass Brazil and preclude it from viable candidacy for hosting another international event. Moreover, a failure to deliver for the World Cup would severely hamper investor confidence in the upcoming 2016 Olympics, to be held in Rio de Janeiro, and would likely discourage would-be visitors and attendees of the event. Football is already entrenched in Brazilian culture, further renowned for its music, dancing, and marvellous beaches – Brazil, unlike South Africa, does not need a ‘rebranding’ so much as a country-wide reforming of the judicial, education, and healthcare systems. The time and money – more the latter than the former – invested in the World Cup could not feasibly have gone into public services, as most of the construction was undertaken through public funding; however, in preparing for the World Cup, the government’s attention was diverted from pressing social issues to hosting an event which Brazil does not need and which could, if ineffectively executed, reduce the country’s international status while sapping its resources.

Brazil’s football legacy legitimates its hosting of the 2014 World Cup – however, its current social and economic situation, as well as, ironically, that very legacy, makes such an event redundant, even harmful. One can only hope that Brazil manages to gear up in time to make the World Cup a festa, and not a fiasco.











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