The High Cost of Sports: The Brazilian Protests and the Problems with Mega-Events

As Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, there are a number of pitfalls the government must avoid in order to have not only successful tournaments but also a prosperous country in the following years. Unfortunately, the Brazilian people see their politicians making the same mistakes that have plagued many other host countries in the past.

Fierce protests broke out in 80 different cities across Brazil in June 2013, evidence that a large portion of the population is dissatisfied with how the country is being run. What started as a peaceful demonstration over a bus fare increase intensified dramatically when police forces shot rubber bullets into a nonviolent crowd. People took to the streets in response, but this only amplified police violence. In Belo Horizonte, police were seen using pepper spray and tear gas, the New York Times reported. Similar police action also took place in several other large cities across the nation.

This kind of treatment is not uncommon. According to the 2013 Human Rights Watch report on Brazil, “[a]busive police plague many Brazilian cities” and “police were responsible for 214 killings in the state of Rio de Janeiro and 251 killings in the state of São Paulo in the first 6 months of 2012….While many police killings undoubtedly result from the legitimate use of force by police officers, others do not.” This paints a disturbing picture when coupled with the seemingly senseless violence in response to the protests.

Photo by Semilla Luz, used under a Flickr Creative Commons license.

Photo by Semilla Luz, used under a Flickr Creative Commons license.

An estimated 1 million Brazilians joined the protests, according to Reuters, yet no single rallying cry has unified them. “The cost of living here is extremely high, there’s a massive rate of inflation, and so people say that they are fed up, that they want their government to do something for them,” National Public Radio’s Lourdes Garcia Navarro reported. The people are calling for better transportation, healthcare, education, and infrastructure to support the growing country, yet little money is being reinvested into these sectors. Many say corruption is to blame.

Signs displayed by the protesters called out corruption not only in the government, but also within soccer’s governing body FIFA, which has many stipulations for World Cup host nations that put immense pressure on local governments. Requirements include building massive stadiums to accommodate the games. Often these turn into “white elephants” – large, unnecessary facilities that drain the economy.

Evidence of this comes from the most recent country to host the FIFA World Cup, South Africa, where a 55,000-spectator stadium was constructed in Cape Town at a cost of $600 million. In a post on the Football Supporters Federation blog, Ryan Chapman reports that the stadium was built regardless of the fact “[m]any people’s first choice for the World Cup venue, including local government themselves, was an upgraded Athlone Stadium, the former home of Ajax Cape Town.”

9148783357_0068fe9445The Brazilian people find themselves in the same position as the South Africans, stuck footing a bill they don’t want for stadiums they don’t need. Though Brazil is a soccer-obsessed nation, game attendance averages under 15,000, far below the capacity of the 50,000-plus-seat megastadiums. Building costs have also hit record highs, with the initial budget estimated at $11.4 billion moving to $12.7 billion. The tournament could end up costing as much as $40 billion, more than the previous three World Cups combined.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International are also keeping a close eye on the relocation of citizens from poor neighborhoods in the crosshairs of development. ABC News reports that approximately 170,000 people have been evicted from their homes due to the coming games. This relocation is pushing people away from urban centers, farther from work, forcing them to use the public transportation that sparked the protests. Sadly, such relocation is nothing new when it comes to mega-events. In China, roughly 1.5 million people were relocated to make way for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Photo by Fernando H.C. Oliveira, used under a Flickr Creative Commons license.

Photo by Fernando H.C. Oliveira, used under a Flickr Creative Commons license.

All of this raises the big question: What can the tournament attendees do to divert the massive gains of big business back to the people? Although there are no easy answers, one obvious option is for potential attendees to join the Brazilian people and protest. The reason mega-events are able to expand each year is due to the massive influx of money from tourism. A decrease in attendance figures would be a huge blow to big business. However, the problem with avoiding the tournament is that it could also hurt smaller local businesses and Brazilian taxpayers.

If your heart is set on heading to Rio next summer and to other major events in the future, a few simple tactics can go a long way to help the local populations. The first is being aware of where your money is going. Many businesses supporting the events come in from outside and pack up and leave after the games. Since larger expenses such as flights and game tickets will unavoidably go into the pockets of big business, it is important to be aware of the impact of each dollar you spend on products and services in your destination. By focusing on supporting locally owned businesses, staying at hotels unaffiliated with global chains, and eating at family-run restaurants, you can ensure your funds are recirculated amongst those invested in the local market. Avoid contributing to the black market and illegal businesses in order to ensure that money flows through the proper channels and has a better chance of positively affecting the collective societal whole.

A little mindfulness on the part of travelers from each corner of the globe could greatly influence the impact of Rio 2014 and many other tournaments to come.

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