Matthew Kennedy
Valley Voices

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July 6, 2014
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Vail Daily column: The other side of the Brazil World Cup

The 2014 World Cup is in full swing, and what a ride it is proving. The event is especially sweet for the Americans. The U.S. team made history by coming back and tying Portugal — a feat no American squad has achieved to date. It also defeated arch-nemesis Ghana, the same country that prevented the U.S. from advancing in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. The games are not without controversy, but for surprising reasons. There hasn’t been an international outrage over different political issues facing the host country as occurred during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. The dismay is a domestic controversy over the games and Brazil’s socio-economic-political climate.

The World Cup has brought to the forefront many of Brazil’s domestic issues:

• The nation’s infrastructure needs overhauling.

• A large economic and unemployment disparity exists.

• The country possesses a large crime problem.

• The legal and financial means for addressing those issues is antiquated.

• Critics of the World Cup contend the game’s funds should have been used to address Brazil’s various financial and societal issues.

Brazil was euphoric in 2007 when FIFA (the governing body for international football) awarded the South American country the 2014 World Cup. Football, soccer in American parlance, is Brazil’s game. They’ve won more World Cups than any other country. It was only natural that Brazil — the home of legendary football player Pele — should host the World Cup. Supporters of the 2014 World Cup argued FIFA’s requirements for holding the games would lead to an enhancement of Brazil’s infrastructure.

The reality proved differently.

The expensiveness of hosting the games didn’t catch the public’s attention until June 2013. It was during this month that the government decided to increase public transportation fees to cover some of the World Cup’s expenditures (a decision reversed later). The public started protesting in Rio de Janeiro, but which quickly spread to other parts of the country. Estimates are that approximately 2 million participated in around 80 cities. The protests’ initial grievances were against the fee increase; their complaints augmented to include the spending used for the games in connection with the nation’s socio-economic qualms. The principal protest grievance was that the funds to host the games — an estimated $11 billion — should have been used to address the nation’s socio-economic woes instead. These include a large income disparity, poor transportation plus health care services and inadequate security in many areas, especially in the nation’s urban favelas or slums.

Many of the same issues preventing Brasilia from resolving its internal woes were prevalent in Brazil’s preparation for the World Cup. These include implementing policies from planning to fruition, plus various accountability, verification, and efficiency issues. The Brazilian authorities failed to execute different micro-economic measures such as streamlining inefficient tax rules, reforming a malfunctioning pension system, plus improving an inadequate labour system limiting workers and companies’ flexibility. The final issue stems from problems relating to public spending. The issue evolves around debatable expenditure decisions by a well-entrenched yet growing public sector that is vulnerable to waste.

A possibility exists the World Cup may allow Brazil’s policymakers to address many of the protesters’ grievances throughout the long term. For instance, in one Rio favala, Rocinha, authorities are utilizing game connected revenue to create conditions for economic growth, plus that address the area’s social issues. The transformation is resulting in a thriving city center, a vast sports complex and almost complete elimination of the drug and crime issues impacting the area prior to the reforms.

The World Cup is in progress. Many of the protesters are now watching and enjoying the games. Brazil — its game — is in the international spotlight, and the country is enjoying it. What is unknown is whether the protests will re-emerge between now and 2016, when Rio hosts the Summer Olympics. It is contingent upon if whether more Rocinhas emerge from the spending directed at the World Cup and 2016 Rio Games. A strong possibility is Brazilians may come together during the next coming months and year, if that occurs; it may be a long two-plus years if many of the socio-economic surrounding the World Cup aren’t addressed. The chances are high the former will prevail, and the Brazilian government will become more responsive to the protesters’ desires.

Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to intl.affairs@yahoo.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jul 6, 2014 09:20PM Published Jul 11, 2014 09:42AM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.