As Brazil and the world prepares for the greatest spectacle in sports, we are reminded that behind the dazzling stadiums and fanfare lies the harsh reality that the cost of administering such an event might outweigh its benefits. Most fans eagerly await the moment of the first kick off as 32 teams representing their respective nations seek the grandest prize in international sport, the World Cup. However what we don’t see is the painful process of building towards such a moment. A process which in Brazil has included forced relocations, corruption, abandoned development projects and budget problems to name a few. As the promise of the world cup for the social development of its host nation erodes we are forced to confront the reality of the burden and suffering this event has caused for the downtrodden in Brazilian societies, the very people it was supposed to help.
The most controversial aspect of the preparation for the tournament has been the forcible removal of 30,000 families from their homes and an estimated 170,000 people displaced in Rio according to A Bleacherreport.com article entitled “The Social Cost of Brazil Hosting the World Cup 2014” On June 6, 2013 by Christopher Atkins. While Brazilian authorities promised modernization and great social benefit from the hosting of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, the result remains that no such benefit has been realized. The relocations and their motivations are also in question with many believing that they are a result in rising land values rather than a need for development. In an article in the Guardian by Owen Gibson and Johnathon Watts entitled “World Cup: Rio favelas being ‘socially cleansed’ in runup to sporting events” on December 5th, 2013 the real reasons for the relocations are revealed as they state “Civil society groups say the relocations are motivated by surging land values. As new infrastructure is put in place for the World Cup and Olympics, property prices rise in the surrounding areas”. This statement demonstrates how the poor residents of Rio slums known as Favelas are being priced out of their residences by the world cup rather than realizing any benefits. In that same article it is pointed out that residents dispute claims by the government that due process is being followed with regard to the forcible removals here the article states “And in less prominent cases, residents complain of being harassed by officials and engineers who tell them their homes are not safe”. According to the article residents are quoted as saying that government officials have essentially gone house by house into the slums known as favelas and want residents out no matter what.
In summer of 2013 massive demonstrations descended on Brazil as residents objected to poor social services and the harm to such services like education and health care the spending on the World Cup was having. While a promise was made that public funds were not to be utilized for stadiums rather only for infrastructure projects it is apparent that is not the case. As Atkins notes in his article 13 of the 50 Urban mobility projects intended to help the favela residents were abandoned in yet another in a string of broken promises. In addition to this residents of Rio favelas have been subjected to intense scrutiny by police and essentially treated as criminals in a pacification operation aimed at cleansing the favelas of gangs and drug related elements residing within them. In a February 28, 2014 thinkprogress.org article by Travis Waldron entitled “Brazil Relocates more than 15,000 families ahead of World Cup” it is stated that “Amnesty International has highlighted the downsides of pacification, saying that the police have treated favela-dwellers writ large as suspects, “engag[ing] in arbitrary frisks without cause” and raiding homes without warrants”. This statement symbolizes the idea of residents essentially being stripped of their rights in a full scale upheaval of favelas to eliminate criminal elements in order to make it more tourist friendly for the upcoming World Cup.
So as we prepare for this major global sporting event let us maintain the perspective that this is sport and nothing more. While appreciating the convergence of many nations gathering to celebrate and compete with one another let us remember sporting entertainment should never trample the rights of everyday people no matter the country of origin or socioeconomic standing of the people in question. Unfortunately it is evident this perspective will not be realized this summer in Brazil.