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After mega-businesses and mega-protests, a mega-event?

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After mega-businesses and mega-protests, a mega-event?


Football fans across the world have been craving for it for so long! You know, for that magic spell that enchants them once every four years. From 12 June to 13 July 2014, their patience will be rewarded with a celebration of the beautiful game in the land that many consider to be its natural home – Brazil, where stadiums are temples and soccer is a religion. For a whole month, the gods of football will get down in the green arena and tunes of samba will summon armadas of worshippers, inviting them to partake in the cathartic rituals. Athletes, fans and spectators will do their best to live up to the promise of the competition’s official slogan: “Juntos num só ritmo”, “All in One Rhythm”. Have no illusions, the fight for the 18-carat-gold golden trophy will be merciless. And even the most cosmopolitan among us will give in to the stream of nationalistic fervour pulsing through our veins.

Bookmakers and fans expect this 20th edition of the FIFA World Cup to confirm the hegemony of the so-called golden quartet nations: Brazil, the host country, Spain, the holder of the trophy, Argentina and Germany; 32 contenders are to play 64 matches in 12 cities across Brazil, in either new or redeveloped stadiums – Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, Sao Paolo, Fortaleza, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Recife, Manaus, Natal, Cuiabà. For the first time at a World Cup Finals, the matches will use goal-line technology to assist the referee in deciding if the ball has completely crossed the line. Though that will deprive us of all the drama and controversy that goes with the awarding of dubious goals.

Behind the magic, there’s the business of the tournament itself, and its head-spinning figures: more than six million ticket applications were received by 10 October 2013 at the end of the initial sale period, way higher than the total seating capacity of the 12 host stadiums, which is around 3.3 million; more than 3.6 billion TV viewers are expected from beginning to end; and an estimated FIFA total revenue of approximately 3 billion euros (4 billion dollars), more than 60% of it coming from the sale of broadcast and media rights.

And when it comes to the host country’s investments, figures are quite staggering. Brazil’s projected budget for organising the 2014 World Cup is around 10.5 billion euros (14.5 billion dollars). Add to this at least 13 billion euros (18 billion dollars) planned for the 2016 Olympics, the other global scale sports event which will be organised by the Southern American giant. The estimated cost of rebuilding or refurbishing the 12 stadiums, which will be used during the tournament, amounts to 2.5 billion euros (3.5 billion dollars). This is not to mention that, at the scale of such an event, the money actually spent goes well beyond the estimations. If for everybody else the symbols above are nothing more than dry numbers, for the Brazilian taxpayers they are the very proof that “Juntos num só ritmo” is not the name of the game.

Pointing towards corruption, crime and inequality and asking “Who is this World Cup for?”, more than a million Brazilians took to the streets nationwide in just one night, on 21 June 2013, in the country’s largest and most significant protests since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985. Triggered by an increase in bus and metro fares, the protesters broadened the scope of their marches, demanding public money for new roads, schools and hospitals, to be built “to FIFA standards”. Demonstrators expressed outrage at the fact that a huge amount of the budget for the World Cup has been used on building the stadiums – some of them in cities that have no sports future – instead of paying for the promised massive improvement of the country’s highways, subway systems, airports and ports.

Brazilians feel that they have been misled by their government. To say that Brazil’s infrastructure is obsolete is a euphemism – the World Economic Forum ranks it at 114th out of 148 countries. Yet, most of the transport upgrades planned for the tournament will not be ready in time or have been axed altogether.

But take Fortaleza, a city of flagrant inequality, the fifth most unequal city in the world, according to the United Nations. 130,000 live in extreme poverty there, yet a 180-million-euro stadium has been built for the tournament. At a cost of about 360 million euros, the new Estadio National Mane Garrincha, in the federal capital Brasilia, has a capacity of 70,000 seats, in a city where the average football audience is around 2,000 souls. The same goes for the lower-division teams in Cuiabá and Manaus who, after 2014, will struggle to fill a fraction of their 40,000 plus-seats stadiums. As of the legendary Maracana stadium, it has been refurbished for the second time in a decade, at a cost of more than 1 billion reals – 350 million euros. Rebuilt with public money, the concession to run it has been offered to a private firm, covering barely a fifth of the costs.

No wonder, then, that instead of expressing their gratitude for the Brasilians’ impressive newly-built stadium, those attending the Confederations Cup opening ceremony, in June 2013, have booed the Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff and FIFA President Joseph Blatter.

The Brazilian government has commissioned several studies on the economic impact of the World Cup, which estimated that the tournament will add from 50 to 80 billion euros to Brazil’s economy in a ten-year period that started in 2010. Some of this income will come from a boost in tourism and from the positive impact of infrastructure projects. But these studies have come under scrutiny by some economists who say that the findings are politically motivated.

Up for re-election in October 2014, President Dilma Rousseff has spent the final weeks of 2013 trying to restore her government’s credibility with business leaders, keep budget spending under control, and ensure that next year does not turn out to be her worst in office. The 65-year-old leftist politician has personally overseen an auction of airports to the private sector, which she hopes will help prevent travel chaos during the World Cup.

Rousseff has also begun using Twitter for the first time in her presidency. That’s part of a broader social media push aimed not just at the election but at giving her a direct line to Brazilians, should there be a repeat in 2014 of June 2013’s massive anti-government street protests. According to Reuters, a poll at the end of November 2013 showed Rousseff cruising toward re-election, with a margin of 30 percentage points over her nearest rival. With her motherly intuition, she must have understood, by now, that a World Cup football banquet will certainly satisfy FIFA’s appetite. But that it takes way more to feed Brazilians’ hunger for a more equitable, more inclusive and less corrupt society.

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