The Social Cost of Brazil Hosting World Cup 2014

Christopher Atkins@@chris_elasticoContributor IJune 6, 2013

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JUNE 02: A general overview during the International Friendly match between Brazil and England at Maracana on June 2, 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images)
Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images

Depending on which side of the argument you choose to listen to, the hosting of any major sporting event can both be seen as an opportunity for great development, or an impending disaster.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is no different, and opposing groups have already been debating the cost benefit of hosting the competition for some time. Somewhat unsurprisingly, they come up with very different figures.

The hosting of the World Cup can be twisted to suit the agenda of any political group. However, for all the potential economic benefits, will it actually be the Brazilian public who benefit? That much is open to very serious questions.

Whilst bidding for the tournament, the emphasis had been on the social benefit that hosting the World Cup would bring. Those benefits—largely based around the sizable issue of urban mobility—have now been swiftly forgotten about.

Besides the lack of investment outside of the stadiums, other issues such as forced relocation and breaches of workers' rights also threaten the tournament's impact on those most disadvantaged in society. The figures do not make pretty reading.

New Stadia: Broken Promises

Just last week, renowned Brazilian football journalist Tim Vickery posted an interesting article on ESPNfc detailing some of the issues that Brazil was facing regarding stadia for the 2014 World Cup.

One of the key points of Vickery's piece is that the public have been mislead on where government money would be spent. A budget of $13.3 billion was set for the tournament, with the majority of money to be spent on projects around the host cities.

Instead, as Vickery notes below, a huge amount of the budget for the tournament has been used on building the stadiums—at the cost of improved highways, subway systems, airports and ports.

At the start of the process Brazil's population was explicitly told that all of the money to be spent on stadiums would be private, leaving public funds for much needed infrastructure projects.

It always looked like a dubious claim, especially as four of the stadiums would seem to have questionable viability. And as it has turned out, almost all of the funds spent on stadiums are from the public purse.

The problem does not end there either. Brazil opted to spend a particularly high amount of money on the stadium developments for two reasons: to implement green technology and to renovate existing iconic grounds.

However, both elements of that decision come under intense scrutiny when it comes down to evaluating finances.

Firstly, the decision to use high-end materials to add in solar panels, water recycling facilities and retractable stands have required the use of foreign technology and labour.

Beyond that, the Global Post report that there will be an annual maintenance cost of 10 percent of the total price. That is to say, the total cost of the stadium will double within just 10 years.

This rapidly rising cost and delay of work at the stadiums, the majority of which has been funded by the state development bank BNDES, has thus taken priority. Works to improve the flow of the event, and people's general lives, have taken a backseat.

According to information on the official Portal 2014 (Portuguese) site earlier this year, seven planned works on airports around the country are yet to begin. Among those, an expansion of the runway in Porto Alegre was scrapped.

Again, regarding urban mobility, it is a similar story. A Publica (Portuguese), for example, report that 13 of the 50 original planned projects across the country have now been scrapped.

One such project, a rail link from São Paulo's Congonhas airport to the Morumbi area of the city had been seen as vital, given the frequent travel problems en-route to the airport.

With small returns on investment failing to attract private investors in quite the quantity that the government had hoped, the Cup is not quite going to offer the legacy that had been so talked up.

Forced Relocations and Workers' Rights

Another major issue the competition has thrown up, like with many sporting events, has been the rights of the people who had lived on land that would now be repossessed for use.

An IPS report on the matter suggests that 30,000 families in Rio de Janeiro alone will have been forced to move for the competition. The Americas Program of the Center for International Policy, meanwhile, places the overall estimate at 170,000 people countrywide.

While the figures above may vary, the number of people being displaced from what are often very poor areas of cities is enormous. There have been complaints over the compensation offered for people's homes, while many of the areas designated for relocation have been both distant and incomplete.

Speaking to the Associated Press last year, Alexandre Mendes, a former head of housing rights at the Rio state public defender's office, said of the evictions: "Many of these removals did not respect principles and rights considered basic in local and international law."

In quotes carried by Metro newspaper, Raquel Rolnik, United Nations special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, was even more damning. He said:

We've received complaints about violent evictions in which families received notifications to leave their homes in a few hours carrying their belongings and then immediately had their homes demolished. There's an absolute lack of transparency and public information.

Compensation measures, resettlement plans and assistance programmes are not presented in advance, nor disclosed in public. 

The country is paying a very high price. Brazil has bowed to pressure to change federal laws, has passed over some citizens' rights and has financed billions to rebuild stadiums at the expense of investment in important sectorsall in the name of the World Cup and the Olympics.

The opportunity to turn the mega-events into possibilities for developing the country is being wasted. Brazil has the will, has the money and still has time to do a better World Cup and Olympics.

Whatever the pros and cons of "urbanising" the country's famous favelas, the manner of the evictions is certainly not in line with the ideals that Brazil as a country like to promote. "Order and Progress", after all, is the motto that sits abreast the country's flag.

The public of the favelas, quite simply, do not buy the reasoning behind the relocations. Many consider, instead, that it is a wish to beatify the cities ahead of upcoming events, or to use the land for expensive new real estate.

Many have already been evicted, but the protests will continue long past the World Cup as work continues ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Besides those who live in the cities, there have also been numerous complaints about the treatment of construction workers ahead of the competition—with numerous works delayed by strikes over conditions.

The United Kingdom-based Latin America Bureau reports that FIFA's threats over the completion dates of projects were used as excuses to ignore the rights of workers by construction firms.

They quote a report entitled "Mega-Events and Human Rights Violations in Brazil", produced by A Publica in late 2012, as documenting strikes at six of the 12 stadiums for use next summer.

To quote their translation of the report, the main demands of the strikes "ranged from wage increases and benefits like health insurance, food assistance and transportation, to improved working conditions (in particular, the protesters had complaints regarding the security situation, sanitation, and food), increased overtime payment and the end of 'inhumanely long' working hours."

It is all fairly unsatisfactory on behalf of both FIFA and the local organising committee, with the feeling that the ordinary people do not matter as long as the event runs smoothly. For FIFA, it is an issue that once more looks set to rear its head ahead of the 2022 competition in Qatar. (Guardian)

Law Changes and Ticket Prices

One of the most controversial aspects of hosting a World Cup is that FIFA require a country to, at least temporarily, change their laws to match the governing body's requirements.

Those laws involve along FIFA to avoid tax on earnings at the event, preventing businesses from associating with the tournament, and, in Brazil's case, the permitting of alcohol sales inside stadia.

They are demands that understandably cause unease among both politicians and public alike. However, it is all part of hosting a World Cup.

Leaving aside the in-depth legal jargon in which I am not well-versed, there are a couple of the laws introduced that add to the feeling of the competition not being "for the people".

The first, Article 11 of the General Law of the World Cup, prevents "the sale of any kind of merchandise in 'official competition locations, in their immediate surroundings and their main access ways', without the express authorization of FIFA."

It all sounds reasonable enough until it emerges that the exclusion zones have previously stretched two kilometres from each stadium. Within that radius, no local trader can make any money from World Cup merchandise.

Beyond that, Article 23 "penalizes bars that try to transmit World Cup games without the appropriate authorization or that promote certain brands not authorized by FIFA." Thus, if you cannot get a ticket for the event, you can only watch it in a bar sponsored by the World Cup's official beer provider. (all from CIP Americas)

Both articles and, indeed, the law itself, have been opposed by many business and workers' rights groups across the country.

There is a common feeling that Brazil's World Cup is being taken away from the lower classes, with all these factors adding to the sentiment. The high cost of ticket prices, also, have done little to soften dissatisfaction.

Brazil has managed to negotiate a 50 percent discount for the elderly population and for students into the prices, in line with the country's national laws, but there is a feeling more must be done.

Ticket prices will be announced on July 1, but only this week Brazilian minister of sports gave a warning that people may need to prepare for a shock.

He said, "I spoke with FIFA representatives, stating that this was unacceptable, that the prices were so high."

"This is really a celebration of the people of Brazil. Soccer is very important for the whole population in Brazil. So I mentioned to FIFA representatives, how about that part of the population that cannot afford those expensive tickets?'' (Fox Sports)

As an indication, tickets for the World Cup in South Africa ranged from $20 to $160 for most first-round matches, and escalated to $150 to $900 for the final.

The build up to the World Cup has involved a number of public figures, as well as those from FIFA, speaking about the legacy of the competition returning to Brazil.

While it will be a party atmosphere for most tourists, and indeed wealthy locals, there will be no real legacy unless Brazil's working classes are included.

Many Brazilian politicians, including the former player Romario, have recognised this. However, it is not easy to change when dealing with the commercial machine that is the FIFA World Cup.