Not playing fair: As one million take to the streets in Brazil, it's time to turn on FIFA

The football authority reaps financial reward while host countries suffer


The Brazilian people have had enough. After a weekend of protests, 100,000 Brazilians took to the streets on Monday in response to the ever-increasing fiscal squeeze their government is imposing on everyday citizens (the initial protest itself being sparked by a relatively small increase in bus fares). By Thursday, the number of protesters had swelled to one million – and although these fairly peaceful and dynamic protests can’t be pegged on just one or two financial woes, it’s not hard to see why Brazilians are up in arms.

A lot of it comes down to FIFA. Brazilian leaders must have really thought they’d hit the jackpot when they landed both the World Cup and the summer Olympics within just two years of one another – but it’s hard to say whether they had enough foresight to realise what these marquee events would do to the country’s finances. According to the Brazilian government, it will cost at least $13.3bn to ready the country for next year’s World Cup – a figure that’s growing larger and getting further over budget with each passing day. One stadium alone in Brasilia cost almost $600m to build.

That’s all well and good, but let’s not forget that Brazil has consistently invested less in public health and education than most OECD countries, and Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo boast minimum wages so low that – for most working class parents – just sending your child to a decent school is an unachievable dream.

This social divide is increasing, and the government hasn’t exactly prioritised closing the gap as of late – why? Because its bureaucratic leaders would rather focus on showcasing the country’s emerging wealth on the world stage in 2014 than build hospitals.

As the nation’s poor are seeing the price of their only means of transportation rise so the country can build new, single-use stadiums, local organisers may be interested to know the chances of Brazil actually making a profit from the upcoming World Cup are zilch.

After hosting the last tournament, the South African government reportedly made a return of £323m – but spent £3bn. Not even an influx of tourism was able to help the government balance their finances. They’d initially predicted the country would make £570m from the estimated 450,000 foreigners travelling to see the World Cup. Only around 300,000 actually showed up. In the end, the country’s overall growth decreased steadily in the aftermath and has yet to recover.

Fast-forward three years, and Brazil’s strength as an emerging economy may live or die by the amount of money it’s willing to throw away hosting the World Cup. Two years later they’ll be hosting the equally opulent summer Olympics – and if the Brazilian government loses just half as much money investing in the World Cup as did South Africa in 2010, how will Brazilians pay for another huge event immediately afterwards? Another hike in bus fares for the poor, perhaps.

Meanwhile, FIFA is sitting pretty. At the end of 2010, as the South African government continued to report shrinking economic growth and major debts, its World Cup helped to push FIFA’s yearly revenue past the $1bn mark. Who’s to say Brazil will fare any better?

We all love cheering our national team to victory in the World Cup every four years – but it’s hard to do so clean of conscience with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands of people are having to front up the cost just so you can enjoy a couple weeks of quality television.

If FIFA wants its charitable legacy untainted, it should consider the ways in which it benefits from the treasuries of countries who’ve got little to spare – for starters, by footing its own construction bill. In the meantime, the Brazilian government would do well to bend to the will of its people; after all, the last time Rio saw a protest of this magnitude, a dictator got overthrown.

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