It took 21-year-old Brazilian striker Neymar all of three minutes to collect the first goal of the 2013 Confederations Cup. After his one-touch volley hit the corner of the net, the home crowd in Brasilia flooded the stands with the white noise of an applauding ocean, forcing an unorchestrated wave of yellow and green shirts.
The tournament is little more than a dress rehearsal for hosting next year’s World Cup, but strikes like that – so refined as to appear natural – have a way of making fans huddled in a stadium forget about context and embrace the moment in and of itself. For the Brazilians outside the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha on Saturday, the conditions that surround their country hosting this tournament and the 2014 FIFA World Cup weren’t so easily escaped.
It started with a protest in Sao Paulo a week before the tournament began. Locals who marched in solidarity against a recent public transit fare hike were met with rubber bullets and pepper spray from the police. The response to the relatively peaceful demonstrations caused public outrage and vulcanized opinions in equal measure. When photos showing a young couple being clubbed by an officer were published in the national press, anger spread past the borders of Brazil’s largest city, and bigger issues beyond bus fare came to the forefront.
Chief among those “bigger issues” is the amount of money being spent on hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics despite the immediate needs of an unequal two-tiered health care system and a failing public education program. On Saturday, as the Confederations Cup began, protests had reached the capital. By Monday, demonstrators had breached security at the National Congress building, as multiple protests erupted in eleven different Brazilian cities, many of which involved violence sparked by both police and participants.
It’s the sad outcome, not just to the horrible process of awarding a nation the right to host a World Cup, but also of a country embroiled in enough corruption that a term exists to describe the additional cost of doing business in Brazil – the unimaginatively named Brazil Cost.
Corruption is so prevalent in the country that it’s become an accepted way of life, even as reports estimate that its very existence costs the people and businesses of Brazil $41 billion a year. By taking on the added expense of hosting a World Cup – and then a Summer Olympics two years later – decision makers have seemingly gone too far in testing the people’s compliance with the status quo.
When we think in terms of corruption and bidding committees, we typically imagine members bribing FIFA officials, and this is not without reason. However, there is a hidden bit of dirty business attached to hosting the World Cup that is seldom mentioned. It’s simply not a profitable venture for a nation.
In fact, those who stand to benefit most from hosting a World Cup are never the people of the country, and always the representatives of the interests that comprise the committee attempting to make it happen. While those in support of hosting will suggest that increased tourism and the creation of jobs provided by the World Cup is good for the country economically, it pales in comparison to the cost of setting up an infrastructure for hosting and the sudden lack of funds available to assist the economy in other sectors.
In a report from 2010, economist Dennis Coates examined the aftermaths of recent World Cups on the economies of the regions that hosted. Despite promised profits in the billions of dollars, only Germany in 2006 was able to break even. Their unique situation was the result of the country refusing FIFA’s request to adopt a “tax bubble” that would allow consumers to avoid tax on merchandise and tickets over the course of the tournament.
Four years later, South Africa didn’t possess the previous host’s leverage in negotiations, and the country ended up giving away millions of dollars in potential taxes, while FIFA walked away from the 2010 World Cup with more than $2.5 billion in profits. This loss of potential income, in combination with the South African government’s agreement to take no share of television, marketing deals or ticket revenue, rendered the country incapable of matching the estimated $8.6 billion cost of hosting.
Perhaps the most amazing discrepancy between expectations and reality occurred in 1994 when the World Cup was played in the United States for the first time. Prior to the tournament, economic reports claimed that the U.S. would profit by more than $4 billion from hosting the event. However, analysis from economists Robert Baade and Victor Matheson revealed that the tournament actually resulted in a cumulative loss as high as $9 billion across the country.
The irony of the demonstrations in Brazil this week is that the only good that a World Cup typically does for the hosting nation is found in its ability to boost the morale of the people. It’s a really big party, and while it lasts, the attention of the world is upon the celebration. One can revel in that, or use it – as the people of Brazil are currently doing – to shine a spotlight on a government’s mismanagement of responsibility.
In the ultimate pot and kettle show, FIFA President Sepp Blatter addressed the media on Monday in Rio De Janeiro, speaking out against the protesters by claiming that they were exploiting the game to serve their own agenda. According to Blatter, “People are using the platform of football and the international media presence to make certain demonstrations.”
He’s absolutely right. Of course they are, but it’s only in response to their own exploitation at the hands of their country’s football care-taking boosters and government enablers who serve selfish interests by spending public money to promote the sport through the World Cup. How else do you reconcile the $3.3 billion that’s already been spent on 13 stadiums to the inequalities of the country’s two-tiered health care system continuing to increase and an already sub-standard public education system that compares unfavorably to other developed countries maintaining its steady decline?
Making Blatter’s comments even more brazenly ignorant is that it’s FIFA’s demand for profit that leads to the disparity between the governing body’s earnings and the host country’s losses. It’s his organization’s policies that justify the protesters’ outrage.
It’s through this lens of FIFA’s already existing profit-hungry policies that we might make an unexpected case for Qatar’s unquestionably dubious selection as hosts for the 2022 World Cup to be the most altruistic. Despite rewarding a region that treats its migrant workers (who comprise 94% of the country’s workforce) brutally and discriminates against homosexuals, at the very least, FIFA is setting its showcase event in a place that can afford to lose money, and do so without burdening its taxpayers. After all, there is no income tax in Qatar.
However, that’s nine years away, and the issue that we’re concerned about right now has to do with Brazil. The problems facing the nation aren’t the result of FIFA’s love of lucre, although they’re certainly not made better through Blatter’s blatant cash grabs. The problem is that the wishes of the people of the country aren’t being properly represented by the authorities that govern the land. The cost of hosting a World Cup isn’t going to be paid by those who lobbied for the honor, instead the bill will be placed in front of the people who had no choice in the matter.
This isn’t an isolated example. For years, Brazil has been promoted for its viability as a future economic powerhouse. Unfortunately, the benefits of this status have rarely been extended to the people in palpable terms, and so, the latest bit of expectation mismanagement from the Brazilian government with the cost associated with the World Cup has been something of a tipping point.
In conclusion, everyone is wrong, and as a result, everyone should feel frustrated. The systems that are in place are far from reasonable, and even farther from ideal, but they’re there nonetheless. The World Cup remains a prestigious event, and nations want to be associated with that prestige, especially when the forerunners of that association stand to benefit the most and pay the least. Without a question, this desire is exploited by FIFA, but attempting to fight it seems as futile as a defender assigned to marking Neymar. That’s why we’re so eager to get lost in the escape that football provides, and forget about the context to each and every goal.
Otherwise, we might find ourselves out on the streets, raging with all of our frustrations agaisnt the systems that prompt them. Perhaps this is the greatest frustration of all: Even our distractions are revealed to be corrupted now. In Brazil, the tide is turning because of this revelation.