The World Cup’s massive inequality problem is about to blow up

In a country where many are malnourished, why is the government spending $3.5 billion on stadiums?

Topics: Dream City, World Cup, 2014 World Cup, Soccer, Sports, urban planning, Income inequality, FIFA, ,

The World Cup's massive inequality problem is about to blow up (Credit: Reuters/Ricardo Moraes/Vadim Georgiev via Shutterstock/Salon)

There is, as media people like to say, a narrative emerging around Brazil’s upcoming World Cup. And it’s not about soccer, but about unfinished infrastructure, opulent stadiums, match-fixing, evictions and protests. The sordid business of hosting an international sporting event isn’t a back story; it’s the story.

There’s some irony in this, because soccer has for decades been Brazil’s best-known export, the seductive flair of the starting 11 closely linked to the nation’s image abroad. At home, too, the squad and the ritual of support have close ties to national identity. But the strong association between Brazil and the Beautiful Game has only heightened the contrast between the organizers’ cheery promotions and the open displeasure of Brazilians.

In taking on the World Cup, has Brazil exposed its own shortcomings — or those of the competition?

In part, the government has fallen short of its own expectations; a large number of infrastructure projects remain unfinished. A monorail connection to the Sao Paulo domestic airport will not be completed until 2015, and renovations to the terminals are running behind schedule. A light rail system in Cuiabá won’t be open in time; Rio’s Transcarioca bus system, which opened last weekend, still has stations under construction. Half the stadiums, meant to be equipped with luxury perks like free Wi-Fi, will not be fully finished by the time Brazil and Croatia kick off. The list goes on.

But most Brazilians aren’t angry about the unfinished projects so much as about the projects themselves. Why is a country with a high incidence of malnutrition spending some $3.5 billion on stadiums? Even the transportation infrastructure projects (especially those that are incomplete) can seem tenuously connected with the lives of ordinary Brazilians. For how many people will an easier connection to the airport constitute an important improvement? Many Brazilians view the general crackdown on the urban informal economy, such as the evictions of favela residents and the demolition of their homes, as an urban renewal project undertaken with the upcoming international exposure in mind.

What seemed a sure bet on a “national passion” has begun to look, to many Brazilians, like trickle-down economics. As Helen Jefferson Lanskyj, author of “Olympic Industry Resistance,” writes: “legacy benefits accrue to the already privileged section of the population.” The burdens go the other way.

To some extent, those perceptions are anchored in the remarkable contrasts of Brazilian society. Though income inequality here is declining quickly, and the country will soon have a more even distribution of wealth than the United States, the differing fortunes of the haves and have-nots are achingly visible in every Brazilian city.

But the protests that have roiled the country over the past two years and may continue to do so during the World Cup also mirror an emerging global consensus, from Sochi to Miami to Munich, that the professional sports industry has grossly manipulated the public interest.

In the United States, the announcement of a publicly funded sports event or facility is routinely accompanied by the prognosis that the handout will not pay off. The International Olympic Committee seems to have only two solid remaining candidates for the 2022 Winter Games: China and Kazakhstan. After Sochi’s colossal expenses and Beijing’s white elephants, who can be surprised that no democracy wants to put the money on the line?

But one-and-done international events – most recently the World Cup, for decades the Olympics, and before that the World’s Fairs and Expositions – have historically been important catalysts for cities’ development. It was the 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris that prompted the city to finally construct an underground subway. Japan’s famous Shinkansen bullet train was inaugurated with the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; four Tokyo highways were constructed in preparation. Barcelona, often considered the gold standard for Olympic planning, introduced over 4 million square feet of public space in connection with the ’92 Games. More recently, South Africa built the celebrated Johannesburg-area Gautrain commuter rail for the 2010 World Cup.

Do the benefits of mega-events outweigh the costs? Though dozens of case studies haven’t furnished a conclusive answer, public opinion seems to have shifted. That the citizens in Krakow, Munich and Davos all voted against competing for the Winter Games confirms that the Brazilians are not alone in viewing a mega-event as a disruption and a waste.

The biggest problem today, perhaps, is not with the game but with the players: FIFA and the IOC.

Their pockets have gotten fat indeed. (And not merely with the bribe money that sent World Cup 2022, in an otherwise baffling decision, to Qatar.) The “positive result” that FIFA gets from the World Cup has doubled with each tournament, from $129 million in 2002 to $339 million in 2006 to $705 million in 2010. FIFA’s World Cup dividends this time around could surely pay for a handful of Brazil’s 12 new stadiums. The International Olympic Committee makes more than a billion dollars a year, and more and more each cycle. A former market director for the committee called the games “the world’s longest commercial.”

Sure, IOC and FIFA score lucrative endorsements and television contracts because they put on a good show. But they also require countries to protect their windfall at the people’s expense. At FIFA’s behest, the Brazilian congress passed a constitutionally questionable law that gave FIFA and its sponsors exclusive commercial control over zones surrounding stadiums. It also gives FIFA special trademark protection. Most important, it exempts World Cup sponsors – multinational corporations like Budweiser and McDonald’s – from Brazilian income taxes and industrial and import taxes until the end of 2015.

If FIFA and the IOC want their plans to pass muster with the world’s citizens, and not just its rulers, they ought to change the way they do business. They have no reason to reform because countries have, until now, competed to do their bidding.

In that regard, Brazil’s World Cup-Olympic combo may mark a tipping point. The possibilities of international sporting competitions are great; the practice is looking increasingly flawed.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...