It’s not all fun and games: Brazil and the 2014 World Cup

I love the World Cup, ever since my first World Cup memory, in 1998. I still remember being huddled around the TV with family and friends watching the France-Brazil final, and the shared sense of disappointment of Brazil’s loss (and perhaps even more so of France’s triumph – the family and friends in question are English).

Four World Cups later, and I’m still hooked; I can’t wait for this year’s tournament to begin. However, while my love of the tournament remains unconditional, 16 years have passed since that final in France, and I have grown up, and with it my understanding of world has changed. For better or for worse, I have come to realise that football is more than just a game, and this tournament much more than just a sporting competition.

Over the years and the event has grown in importance and reach, with an estimated 3.2 billion people tuning in to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (FIFA, 2011). With half the world as an audience, the dream of participating in the World Cup has become a global one, and the chance to host the event has become an honour than every country dreams of.

This year, the World Cup returns to South America, and to the land of “the beautiful game”, 5 time World Cup champions, and home to some of football’s greatest, like Pelé, Ronaldo, and Ronldinho to name but a few…

… and over 43 million people living in poverty,  a country ranked 86th on the Human Development Index (HDI), (CIA World Factbook, 2012). And yet an estimated  €9.2  billion will be spent on the upcoming tournament; €9.2 billion euro that could have gone towards tackling any number of issues across the country (Harris, 2013).

What do Brazilians have to say about this? National pride Pelé made his opinion quite clear:”Brazil is running a great risk of embarrassing us in how it runs the World Cup, principally in communications. The airports are frightening and not just for Brazilians.” (ABS-CBN News, 2011)

Thanks to social networks, we’ve been able to hear from more than just celebrities. Filmmaker Carla Dauden put it her point of view quite eloquently with her viral video “No, I’m not going to the World Cup“:

With growing animosity towards the World Cup, the slogan, “All in one Rhythm”, couldn’t seem more ironic.

Since Brazil embarked the perilous path to the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian people have seen billions of dollars go towards shiny new stadiums, while promises of public transport improvements, which could represent a true legacy, have fallen by the wayside. And if the budget concerns weren’t enough to contend with, the forced evictions, and demolition of thousands of homes in favelas that happen to be located too close to desirable tourist areas have further tarnished the memory of the 2014 World Cup, years before it even begun (Huffington Post, 2012).

And what of FIFA’s response? FIFA president Sepp Blatter put it quite clearly:

Brazil asked to host the World Cup. We didn’t force it on them. It’s obvious that stadiums need to be built but that isn’t the only thing in a World Cup: there are highways, hotels, airports and a lot of other items that remain as a legacy.”
(Downie, 2011)

Disappointing. A shirking of responsibility, and the glittering promise of the legacy. Unfortunately, despite the potential that the World Cup has to be a “catalyst for social and economic development” (Darnell, 2012), in reality there has been little to suggest that ‘legacies’ (cultural and/or infrastructural) merit the financial commitment required. For the World Cups hosts over the last 2 decades (excluding the World Cup’s debut in Africa, in the South Africa 2010 World Cup) Germany, Korea-Japan, France, USA, all advanced economies, the burden of the World Cups ever increasing cost was not as difficult to bear. However, with the expected spending for the World Cup to be more than the 2 previous cups combined, Brazil, even with its strong economic growth, is in trouble.

So where does that leave us? With our rose coloured glasses torn off, and there’s no way back. The 2014 World Cup will be remembered not only for its champion, but also for the pain and suffering around it, and as the time when Brazilians rejected football (if you can forgive the stereotype).

For me at least, the memory is already blemished. Can I still love the World Cup, knowing all that I know?

Yes. Of course I can, and I do. On June 12th I will be glued to the TV (schedule permitting), with family and friends watching the opening match between Brazil and Croatia. For a moment, amidst the excitement, I will forget. Along with billions of people across the globe, from all walks of life. Some might call it escapism, but I prefer to think of it as a celebration of global sense of unity. A celebration of an event that captures the attention and dreams of so many, and allows us to have a brief, shared moment of relief from whatever else may be happening around us.

There is beauty in that. The truth is, for all its flaws of the World Cup, of which I named just a few, there is no denying the power of football. The question is how we attempt harness that power towards greater good. When it comes to the World Cup promise of a lasting legacy for Brazil, I think that ship has sailed. Just as the World Cup can be a driver for development, it also brings with it a lot of risk. The recent trend in granting the right of these kinds of sporting mega-events (the Common Wealth Games in Delhi, World Cup in South Africa, Olympics in China for example) comes with a certain responsibility, from both those submitting their bids, and those approving them.

But in the Case of Brazil 2014, with the the inaugural match just  6 months away, there is no turning back; The Show Must Go On. Maybe all we can ask of this year’s World Cup is that, even if we allow ourselves a few moments of blissful forgetfulness, we remember the path to Brazil 2014, and more importantly that we learn from it.

Sources:

Darnell, Simon. Mega sports for all? Assessing the Development Promises of Rio 2016. Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research. 2010. Retrieved from:
http://www.questia.com/library/journal/1G1-268478201/mega-sport-for-all-assessing-the-development-promises#articleDetails

Dip, Andrea. Brazil World Cup: Forced Evictions. The Huffington Post Online. 28 June, 2012.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/brazil-world-cup-forced-evictions_n_1631885.html

Downie, Andrew. World Cup legacy for Brazil goes beyond soccer, says Blatter. Reuters. 19 June, 2013.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/19/us-soccer-world-brazil-blatter-idUSBRE95I11020130619

FIFA, Almost half the world tuned in at home to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. FIFA.com, July 2011.
http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/archive/southafrica2010/organisation/media/newsid=1473143/

Harris, Nick. World Cup 2014: Will the beautiful game turn ugly in Brazil amid angry protests at 7.6 bn cost of World Cup finals. The Daily Mail, 30 November, 2013.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/worldcup2014/article-2516225/World-Cup-2014-Will-beautiful-game-turn-ugly-Brazil.html

The CIA World Factbook, Brazil. Updated 2014.
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2046.html

ABS-CBN News Pelé fears embarrassment over World Cup delays. abs-cbnnews.com. 19 February 2011.
http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/sports/02/19/11/pele-fears-brazil-embarrassment-over-world-cup-delays


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