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In The Shadow of the Football Stadium (Grapeshot Magazine: Issue 7, Vol. 6, October 2014 'Around

The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is over. The world has new FIFA champions (Germany) and Brazil has new stadiums, infrastructure, and has to prepare for an Olympics in two years. You would think, in a football-mad country like Brazil, that they would have been euphoric to showcase their country and ability on a world stage.

However, leading up to the World Cup, the country had full scale riots, protesting at the overspending of Brazil’s budget. Now, just over a month after the last football fans have left, Brazil is back in preparation mode for the 2016 Olympics, while concurrently holding presidential elections in October. The country’s political, economic, and social balance is out of sync, which leaves everybody wondering how beneficial the World Cup really was.

I’m not detracting from Brazil’s hosting of the Cup. It was impressive, and the price tag that came with it certainly shows it. According to ESPN, Brazil spent close to fourteen billion on the World Cup (comparatively, Germany spent six billion in 2006). Brazil built new stadiums, improved infrastructure such as roads, rail lines and airports, and spent billions on improved security. This may leave you wondering, can a country that has such high levels of poverty and issues regarding environmental degradation afford such an expensive event, let alone two?

Before the World Cup, Brazil had been an economically strong prospect. Despite its ‘developing country’ status, the CIA lists Brazil’s GDP as beings the eighth largest in the world in 2013 due to its abundance of resources. This wealth has not been translated into better infrastructure with slums and poverty still prominent in the country, that fourteen billion was definitely needed elsewhere. Instead, it paid for a huge sporting event, and although it upgraded its infrastructure, it was of no assistance to healthcare or education, and displaced many people from their homes.

Additionally, Brazil isn’t set to make any serious profit from the World Cup because it is governed by FIFA. So when all events concluded, FIFA takes a significant chunk of all profits. To top things off, Brazil has recently fallen into recession with -0.2 per cent growth following the World Cup.

While economic issues aren’t pretty, you’d think the people of Brazil, a football mad country, would have loved the World Cup being played in their backyard. Surprisingly, a Pew Research Survey conducted in 2013 revealed 61 per cent of Brazilians believed hosting a World Cup would have negative socio-economic impacts, and 72 per cent were dissatisfied with “the way things were going” in terms of the World Cup preparation and its preference over schools, healthcare, and public services.

Despite high GDP growth, Brazil has one of the highest rates of people living below the poverty line, 21.4 per cent of the population (and over 4.2 per cent living in ‘extreme poverty’ in 2011). This disapproval for the World Cup manifested into riots that began in June 2013 and are still continuing. This spread to over 18 Brazilian cities, protesting everything from World Cup construction costs in the midst of poverty, to serious concerns over infrastructure.

Social media showcased these problems. Buzzfeed published images of graffiti strewn across all World Cup cities, showing Brazilian footballers kicking bags of money to greedy executives, pictures of shiny colourful stadiums contrasted against slums across the road, or a now infamous graffiti painting of a starving Brazilian child being presented with a football instead of food. These images showcase a need for support for the underclass, not new stadiums.

Brazil’s issues touch on a broader theme. Every time there are huge global sporting events, other more important issues regarding people’s wellbeing get pushed to the side. Remember the London Olympic Games in 2012? Less than a year before, riots and racial tensions gripped the country. This was reported worldwide. However, the whole view was that because the Olympics was around the corner, it would damage the United Kingdom’s reputation to try and combat the problem.

Instead of trying to break down barriers and encourage racial tolerance, the British just ‘forgot’ about these events.

I was in London during the Olympics, and memories of riots were the last thing on my mind. I was there to watch Sally Pearson win gold in the hurdling and Andy Murray at Wimbledon. It’s easy to get caught up in the Olympics and forget the bigger picture. This happened in Sydney too, according to Gordon Waitt from the University of Wollongong. During the ‘Friendly’ Olympic Games, there was no mention of forced movement of homeless people out of Sydney’s areas planned for Olympic development, or the rapid, city-wide increase in rent. The emphasis on Sydney’s Olympics swept other social problems aside, and in some ways, we’re still dealing with those problems now.

Huge global events like World Cups and the Olympics are pure escapism for bigger problems. It’s unfair to judge Brazil for putting sport over social problems, because even ‘developed’ countries are guilty of the same thing. Brazilian law student and resident, Tainá Garcia Maia said, “I do not think these issues reflect a unique and particular situation in Brazil. I believe it shows a ‘state crisis’ that is present worldwide. People are distrusting of the State machinery and structure, and look to finding a new path to follow.”

With expenses related to the Games already hovering around $2.3 billion two years out, and the country entering a recession, will these games be worth it for the Brazilian people?

One can only hope that the voice of everyday Brazilians can be heard, so the next time the eyes of the world are on Brazil, the social and economic issues that exist can be part of the image that Brazil tries to project. Tainá says that after the World Cup, tensions have alleviated a lot. “Even during the World Cup, the situation was less tense than in the preparation for the event. I am seeing good results, there were gains to the Brazilian population that went far beyond the ‘World Cup party’.

I believe it will be much easier to hold the Olympics here than it was to hold the World Cup.” The fact already that there is now dialogue about these issues is a good sign. Only time will tell, but for now, Brazil’s social and economic problems seem to be cast under the shadow of football stadiums, election campaigns, and grand plans.

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