Two things have united Brazilians this year more than anything in the last 64 years: the World Cup and the excessive amount spent on the World Cup. As news of the various anti-world cup campaigns are raging, it’s important to understand the rationale behind the demonstrations. These aren’t sporadic tantrums by a population simply “crying over spilt milk” as the expression goes. Another expression suggests that “there is no smoke without fire” and rightfully so because the $11 billion spent on the World Cup represents the smoke and the display of protests across Brazil signify the fire.
As I write this 600, 000 foreign tourists are basking in the excitement that is the Brazilian World Cup and they should. However, if those 600,000 could spare a thought for the 30 million living below the poverty line (those living on less than $2 a day) then perhaps change could come. If those 600, 000 foreign tourists considered the 11.25 million people living in favelas i.e. Brazil’s slums maybe we could incite revolution. However, the 600, 000 will probably never see a favela or appreciate the depths of poverty within football’s iconic nation because the lens on Brazil’s most destitute areas remains out of focus whilst the lens on the more upscale areas of Brazil is amazingly clear.
I gravitate towards the subject of emerging markets because I’ve always been very fond of the underdog and since 2008 Brazil was proclaimed as the “GDP” to watch having been included in the BRICS, which is an acronym for new markets Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Naturally, when I heard the news that Brazil an underdog was hosting the world cup my excitement was undeniable. For the second time in history millions would congregate the 12 Brazilian stadiums in anticipation for some of the greatest moments in football history. I was looking forward to pretending to be Brazilian for the duration of the world cup quite simply because I like to identify with the team with the most prospects (which would make me a shameless glory hunter) but then I remembered the rampart inequality and poverty within Brazil. I felt it hard to fit my excitement into the reality that many Brazilians will never move on from the poverty that binds them. Brazil has been successful at least partially (I say partially because news of the string of anti- world cup protests in Sao Paulo that took place before the opening match between Brazil and Croatia received international attention) in swapping the negative images of Brazil with the positive. Granted images of impoverished people do not make for a Kodak moment but one has to question why the image of successful Brazil is continuously thrust in our faces and yet the faces of the poor have been partly annihilated from our screens.
Often statistics speak louder than words and so I won’t bore you with a comprehensive history of Brazil’s economic or financial history, I’ll simply present the facts. Brazil has spent over $ 11 billion on preparations an amount that exceeds the $4 billion it cost South Africa to host the World Cup. What’s more interesting is the fact that when Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006 they spent $ 6 billion which means that the amount spent in Brazil exceeds the total spent in Germany and South Africa combined. Brazil spent $900 million building the Estadio Nacional Arena in Brasilia, which is extravagant considering Brasilia does not in fact have a local team to take advantage of the new sporting facility once the World Cup is over. Moreover, the cost to renovate the Maracana Stadium reached $350 million and close to $243 million was spent on road works for the world cup.
Contrast this image of wealth to the disparity across the nation and you will begin to understand the position of the protesters and have a deeper appreciation for their cause. In Sao Paulo alone, there is a shortage of 1 million dwellings and this figure has remained constant for the past five years. The housing deficit has forced many to move into territories such as “New Palestine” in Sao Paulo, which can only be likened to a neo refugee camp. 8, 00 people have settled in “New Palestine” in response to the dearth in affordable housing available. The situation is exacerbated further by the fact that any available land has been appropriated for the World Cup. Then there is the concern over educational standards within the country which appear shockingly low. A number of teachers are apparently under qualified; many of them cannot read or write which implies an educational deficit. The chronic educational problem is perfectly captured in a study by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The study in 2010 assessed the performance of 15 year olds from 63 countries in Maths, Science and reading and out of the 63 Brazil ranked 53rd in reading, 57th in maths and 53rd in Science. So when the news that the money spent to refurbish and build the new stadiums was akin to 13% of the country’s budget for public education I began to understand the frustration of the protesters and led me to ponder on the possibility that the welfare of the Brazilians has been exchanged for the glory of the World Cup.
Brazil’s problems existed long before the World Cup and it would be erroneous to suggest otherwise but the 2014 world cup has done much to reveal where loyalties lie. Loyalties clearly lie with football and not the 30 million living below the poverty line or the 8, 000 living in refugee style camps in Sao Paulo or the pupils with teachers who can’t read or write. The poor may be poor but they are not stupid, they are becoming far more aware of their rights and the atrocities committed against them for the glory of the 64 football match phenomena that is the World Cup.
I’m hoping Brazil win the world cup if not for anything but for the fact that according to another statistic the victor’s economy exceeds the world’s economy by 3.5% in the first month after the world cup. Perhaps then the victim’s of the 2014 World Cup i.e. Brazil’s poor might get a share of the prize, that is if the money is re-invested in the necessary sectors already outlined in this article.
Love Cris x
P.s When I’m rooting for my mother land team Nigeria, I’m also rooting for my pseudo country of nationality Brazil.
Go Brazil. Go Brazil. GO.
P.S.S The featured image is a shot taken from one of my favourite scenes in the movie fast and furious 5. If you haven’t seen it, find a way.