Economy & Trade, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

Will 2014 World Cup Take Football from Brazil’s Masses?

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 6 2012 (IPS) - The lack of transparency in the preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil is raising concerns over the social implications of hosting the football championship and fears that the country’s most democratic and popular sport will only be accessible to the wealthy.

The criticism is fuelled by constant increases in the budgets initially earmarked for road works and stadium construction and renovation in the 12 cities that have been selected as venues for the final phase of the World Cup.

The Cup is expected to bring enormous visibility to this Latin American powerhouse and to attract numerous investments. Some 3.4 million tourists are expected to visit the country over the six weeks of the championship, bringing in 5.3 billion dollars in revenue.

The government argues that the World Cup organised by the Swiss-based international football federation FIFA will increase Brazil’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 103 billion dollars between 2010 and 2019. That’s an annual increase of more than 0.4 percent.

“Is the Cup for Brazilians?”, Christopher Gaffney, a geographer and researcher with the Architecture and Urbanism Graduate Programme at Universidad Federal Fluminense, which monitors the development of large urbanisation projects in the country, asked IPS.

“It’s a Cup that serves the interests of real estate speculation and large infrastructure and construction works. It will leave behind a legacy of beautiful stadiums, but it will mean that football will become a sport for the rich,” the U.S.-born researcher said.

Tickets for the Cup’s matches will cost 120 to 150 dollars, which is too steep a price for the average Brazilian, according to Gaffney, whose work has focused on monitoring the preparations for the FIFA World Cup since Brazil was chosen as the tournament’s host nation in 2007.

“It will be the appropriation of football by the wealthy. It’s the most popular and democratic sport in the country and it will become increasingly more expensive,” he said.

Gaffney criticised the social exclusion that is already evident “in the construction of mammoth stadiums, which illustrate the efforts to make football a sports for rich people.”

For this expert, the very term “legacy”, which the government insists on using to talk about the positive social impact the Cup will have, is a mistake.

“When you receive an inheritance you don’t have to pay for it. In Brazil, we’re going to have to pay to maintain it, so it’s actually a debt,” he said.

According to Gaffney, FIFA expects Brazilians to pay for expensive tickets, on top of the unprecedented investment that the country is making to prepare for the championship.

“Brazilians are paying fortunes. This is the most expensive World Cup ever and FIFA wants to make the population pay very steep prices to see the matches,” he said.

The works for nine of the 12 stadiums that will be built or renovated are financed with public funds. In 2010, official estimates put the investment necessary for these works at about three billion dollars, but that amount is already up to four billion.

“In 2007, then Sports Minister Orlando Silva said that not one penny from public funds would be spent on the stadiums. But no private investors came forward. One of the stadiums is even operating at a loss and money needs to go into its maintenance,” Gaffney said.

The greatest expenditure will be for the renovation of the legendary Maracaná stadium in Rio de Janeiro, with a budget that currently stands at 530 million dollars. Some 180 million dollars had already been spent on this venue to revamp it for the 2007 Pan-American Games.

In the next four years, Brazil will be hosting another two other mega sports events: FIFA’s Confederations Cup in 2013, and the Olympics, which will also be held in the city of Rio in 2016.

What concerns Gaffney is “the kind of stadium we’re going to have”. A stadium with state-of-the-art technology and photovoltaic panels produced by European companies will run up “an impossible bill”, because it will entail importing the technology and bringing in people from abroad to install and maintain it, he said.

The annual cost of future maintenance will be 10 percent of the cost of building it, so that “in 10 years we will have paid the equivalent of a new stadium.”

Four to seven matches will be played in each venue.

The western city of Cuiabá, capital of the state of Mato Grosso, will host four matches, which translates into an investment of 370 million dollars for a stadium that will be used just eight hours during the World Cup, and will later be practically idle.

There are also social costs that could turn this World Cup into an “social exclusion cup,” because the works underway have already pushed a great number of poor families out of their homes in the favelas (shantytowns), as these are torn down to make room for express bus lanes to facilitate traffic during the Cup.

Near Maracaná, for example, 400 families have been forcefully relocated from Favela do Metrô to build a parking lot. These families were uprooted and resettled in a distant suburban area, where they have no ties to the local community.

Gaffney projects that some 30,000 families will be displaced in Rio de Janeiro alone.

Human rights violations have also been reported, including abusive working conditions in stadium construction and other works.

This has led to strikes and work stoppages at Maracaná and other stadiums, such as Mineirão, in the southwest city of Belo Horizonte, state of Minas Gerais. The protests are motivated by low wages, poor working conditions, and excessive hours resulting from bad planning.

“With pressure mounting to finish the works, the first thing to go are workers’ rights,” Gaffney said.

FIFA General Secretary Jérôme Valcke visited Brazil in January to check on progress in the country’s preparations, touring Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza, and Recife to oversee the works.

“The World Cup costs what the country can pay and what it wants to invest. FIFA asks for nothing more than what the country offered,” Valcke said.

In this sense, he stressed that it was the Brazilian government’s decision to locate the championship’s 12 venues in “cities that have inadequate infrastructure, telecommunications, accommodations, and transportation. “That’s why huge investments are necessary,” Valcke said in Rio.

“Ours is not a private organisation; we’re not in it for the profit. Eighty percent of all the money collected goes back into football,” he argued.

Valcke showed concern over “disagreements and disputes” that have held up the approval of the General World Cup bill, which is being discussed in congress and must be passed by March.

The bill reflects commitments undertaken by the Brazilian government with FIFA in order to host the tournament, including some controversial issues such as the sale of alcoholic beverages inside the stadiums (banned in 2003 in an effort to curb violence in matches), and the usual infrastructure, urban transportation, and accommodation issues.

“We’ve been very flexible already. It’s 2012 and we need to close negotiations. We’ve been saying since 2007 that there was no time to lose,” he said.

A total of three million tickets will be sold for the World Cup, but only one million will be sold directly to the general public, both domestic and foreign. The other two million will be distributed among the national teams and FIFA, Valcke explained.

Since the last World Cup, held in South Africa in 2010, FIFA introduced a fourth category of cheaper tickets, exclusively for citizens of the host country. Some 300,000 Category Four tickets will be sold for 25 dollars each.

Senior citizens (60 or older) will also be able to buy tickets at half price.

After negotiating with the government, FIFA also agreed to make 100,000 tickets available for sale to special groups, such as indigenous people and beneficiaries of the Family Fund programme for vulnerable groups.

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