12 June 2014

Africa: The World Cup and Brazil's 'Surreal' Experience


When walking through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, one could be forgiven for not realising that it will soon play host to one of the world's biggest soccer tournaments. Brazil is well known for its fanatical love of the game but with only days before the kick-off of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, there seems to be little enthusiasm amongst ordinary Brazilians.

Rio is also the host city for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games and, with Brazil staging multiple major global events, seemingly Brazilians see this as an unnecessary financial burden.

Brazil is a country that has, in the last decade, played an increasingly important role in global governance institutions such as the United Nations (UN), and the Group of 20 (G-20). It has also managed to sustain high levels of economic growth and was recently ranked by the World Bank as the seventh largest economy in the world. Hosting mega sporting events like the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic and Paralymic Games presents an invaluable platform for Brazil. For the government of Brazil, hosting these global tournaments is seen to represent three major opportunities.

Firstly, the events have potential as a soft power tool to improve and shape the way the country is perceived by the international audience, but also by its citizens. Secondly, with high numbers of national and international sports fans expected to descend on some of Brazil's major cities, there is the promise of huge economic benefits through tourist spending. Thirdly, as Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has stated on many occasions, above all, the events represent an opportunity to improve the lives of every Brazilian through the building, expansion and modernisation of national infrastructure. In fact, as was the case in South Africa, the host of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Brazilian government sees these projects as forming part of its long term commitments to develop infrastructure that will support further economic growth beyond the soccer tournament itself.

Regarding the huge potential economic spill-overs created by sports tourism in this period, a 2014 study by Ernst & Young Terco and the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV) in Brazil, indicates that the overall impact of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Brazil is expected to be about US$ 70bn from both direct and indirect investments. Over and above this, the report states that an estimated 3.63 million jobs will be created.

However for a country which according to the World Bank ranks 95th in the world for GDP per capita there is perhaps a greater need to consider the balance of national development interests along with the huge international responsibilities and stipulations required to host such events.

Indeed with just days to go before the opening of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the Brazilian government has finally managed to deliver on the promises made to FIFA and the Brazilian population. Even outstanding stadium developments are in advanced stages of completion. Officials announced on 12 March that the Bus Rapid Transit system which includes the Transcarioca express highway which will revolutionise public transport in Rio is said to be close to completion. With regards to stadiums, ribbons have been cut in almost all stadia including the famous Maracanã Stadium in Rio, Estadio das Dunas in Natal, Estadio Beira-Rio in Porto Alegre and Arena da Amazônia in Manaus.

However there have been far more delays, overspending and cancelations of infrastructure projects than initially anticipated. Upon arriving at Guarulhos International Airport in São Paulo and Galeão International Airport in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil's two major international gateways, one sees very little signs of efforts to reorganise or upgrade the facilities. Delays have, in many cases, been attributed to corruption on the part of government officials and construction companies; misuse of funds; and poor construction standards. As a result this World Cup is expected to be the most expensive to date, with a final price tag of US$11 billion. This is compared to the South African 2010 FIFA World Cup which cost a total of US$3 billion.

June 2013 saw the kick-off of the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup and also the beginning of mass protests against bus fare increases in the city of São Paulo. These demonstrations developed into discontent with public services, the cost of living, entrenched inequality, government corruption, and then finally against the World Cup tournament itself. Speaking to colleagues at the BRICS Policy Centre in Rio de Janeiro, it is clear that the issues raised by protesters while seemingly against the World Cup are in fact a symptom of deeper social tensions, mostly regarding the government's slow delivery on basic goods and services and many unfulfilled promises. These sentiments are echoed in a June 2013 article in Time Magazine which noted that "a general lack of a return on high taxes, and inadequate government upkeep and spending on infrastructure, education and healthcare... stands in stark contrast to the country's preparations for the FIFA World Cup."

This enormous spending on the international events is occurring in the context of an increasing cost of living in Brazil which has also made it hard for many to survive. In fact, a term has been coined by locals to explain the apparent unrealistic increase in prices of basic foods, services and apartment rentals ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. They are calling the increase "surreal", which is a play on the Brazilian currency, the "Real", and a pointed reference to how recent price hikes border on the bizarre. Similar sentiments were shared by teachers from the State of Rio who went on strike demanding a 20% salary increase. Strikers chanted "an educator is worth more than Neymar" (who for the soccer ill-informed is a famous and popular Brazilian soccer star). The now trademark slogan "There will be no Cup" could be heard on the 28th of May as the national team bus left the Rio International Airport on route to their training camp.

In a country where soccer is almost a religion and where players are demi-gods, the teachers' words are remarkable but seem to resonate with many Brazilians. For them, the economic burden of putting on multiple shows for the world has overshadowed the responsibilities that the government has to its people. However even with the many delays, protests and general lack of enthusiasm by Brazilians, there is hope that Brazil will be ready by the kick off date and that many will finally come to the party.

Matshaba Mothiane is a visiting research fellow in SAIIA's Economic Diplomacy Programme and is currently located at the BRICS Policy Center in Rio de Janeiro. Yu-Shan Wu is a researcher for SAIIA's Global Powers and Africa Programme.


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