We are less than a year away from the World Cup, and it is bedlam in Brazil. Nobody rejoices in futebol like the Brazilians, in part because no other country has won as many World Cups. But the uproar in Rio is not the reverberation of a recent string of bad results for the national team; on the contrary, the Seleção were the first to qualify for next year’s tournament. It’s not about score; for the citizens of Sao Paolo, the 2014 World Cup is already guaranteed to be unlike any in recent memory. Brazil is hosting this World Cup. And that’s precisely what has hundreds of thousands of protesters so angry.
Step back. What do you know about Brazil? It’s a large South American country that speaks Portuguese in contrast to their Spanish speaking neighbors. Good, keep going. A lot of really good soccer players are Brazilian. Yes, continue. Brazil is the B in BRIC. Precisely.
BRIC. It’s an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, and China, and it’s most often found in articles about global economics. Sometimes South Africa is included among them, creating BRICS. The story goes that the BRIC nations, due to their populations (Brazil is the 5th most populous country on Earth) and the rates at which their economies are developing, are poised to become major players on the global stage over the course of the next half century. There are a lot of statistics which support this idea—but this isn’t about future economics. The keyword here, for our purposes, is “developing,” which is the economist’s way of saying that “they aren’t there yet.” All four countries are still battling/ignoring massive poverty, corruption, and standard-of-living issues. In recent decades, Brazil has seen the rise of favelas, where some 6% of the population now lives. Favela is the Brazilian term for what we would call a shantytown, and those who live in favelas often lack running water, sanitation, and literacy. A sizable portion of Brazil’s population, even outside the slums, lives on less than $2 a day.
In that context, Brazil is hosting next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics. To do so, they have spent billions to rebuild, renovate, and construct the massive stadiums and infrastructure required to host such events. For the World Cup, the stadiums will be exempt from taxes on merchandise and ticket sales. An estimated 170,000 people have been or will be evicted from their favelas—their homes—to make way for these new venues. There are some questions as to whether everything will be ready in time for 2014; workers striking for higher wages has slowed construction across the country. Following smaller displays over hikes in bus fares, Brazil erupted into protests just as they began to host this year’s Confederations Cup. Soccer fans around the world have turned their eyes towards Brazil, and protesters intend to make the most of that.
The Olympics and World Cup are highly profitable ventures, but for who? The IOC and FIFA, certainly, but the benefits of hosting are less clear. Athens supposedly lost $14 billion hosting the Olympics in 2004; London merely broke even. The famous Bird’s Nest stadium from the 2008 Olympics now sits empty in Beijing. Exact figures are harder to find when it comes to the World Cup, but it is known that FIFA takes a much larger slice of the income than of the expenses. Say the World Cup does turn a profit: will residents of favelas ever see that money? Might the billions spent on preparation have been better spent on schools, hospitals, infrastructure? How will this improve lives? These are the questions Brazilians are asking.
About the Author (Author Profile)Ryan is studying journalism in the college of communication. He hails from Rochester, New York, and is slowly growing tired of explaining that it's really quite far from NYC. He watches far too much sports and likes to think of his life as a really long (and occasionally boring) book. His guilty pleasures include most of the music from the 1980s and every movie Sylvester Stallone ever starred in.
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