Of Slums and Stadiums: Is it viable for developing nations to host the World Cup?

June 12, 2014 at 4:22am

With just two days to go for the World Cup kickoff games, the world doesn’t know

which to watch, if the game between Brazil and Croatia, or the mounting

intensity of protests just outside the stadiums.

Brazil, a country with a reputation hot for all things football, and which has given

the world some of the best football players in history and some of the most

memorable football moments on television, is now an incubator for football

disaster with millions of people taking to the streets to protesting against

the World Cup hosted in their home. If we could have expected that any country

would have gloriously received the FIFA World Cup games into their home, it

would have been a nation like Brazil. However, the hostile reaction from

Brazil’s people against the World Cup coming to their country raises many

questions on the viability and profitability for developing countries to host mega

events such as the World Cup. The protests which started last year came as a

result of frustrations caused by the hike intaxes to meet infrastructure expenses

to ready Brazil for the World Cup. While 6% of Brazilians live in mountains of

bricks known as ‘Favelas’, Brazil’s poor and middle class feel that money

should be invested in healthcare, education and nourishment rather than on

stadiums that will serve for a one time use and end up becoming liabilities to

the country after the games are over.

If the situation of South Africa post World Cup fever is to serve as Brazil’s

future, Brazilians are right in their premonitions. Four years after the World

Cup was held in South Africa, the stadiums built are hemorrhaging the economy.

In 2010 as preparations to host the games South Africa spend $3.9 billion US to

construct and renovate eight state of the art, FIFA approved stadiums proper

enough for international audiences. Out of the eight stadiums built only one is

economically viable now. Some of these stadiums are now unused because local teams

cannot afford to pay rent to use them and costs the residents an exuberant amount to

maintain. Such is the case of the Cape Town Stadium which cost $600 million US in construction

now sits forgotten and abandoned. According to Geoffrey York’s article published in the Globe and Mail,

the 55,000 seat stadium costs Cape Town around $6 to $10 million US a year to maintain and “Some residents have even

suggested that it should be demolished to save money.” The demands made by FIFA made

are highly disparate between the needs of developed nations and developing ones. Viable options that could

have saved some money and benefitted the local communities were disproved. A report by the

Danish Institue for Sport Studies concluded that in Cape Town and the City of

Durban there was no need for new stadiums when both communities had rugby

stadiums that could be renovated. Organizers voted in favor of renovation of

existing stadiums which would benefit the people living in the surrounding

shacks areas after the World Cup had ended. However, FIFA wanted the World Cup

stadiums to have a view of the sea for the television audience. “A billion

television viewers don’t want to see shacks and poverty,” a FIFA delegate told

the local officials, according to a report in a leading South African


The hope of the host country is that revenue generated from tourism

would reimburse the country’s expenditures. However it was not so for South Africa.

A research paper published in the Journal of African Economies calculated that South Africa attracted only

220,000 tourists from countries outside of Africa, spending an estimated $13,000

US on each visitor. In an interviwe with Andrew Harding, a correspondent for BBC Africa, the 2010 World Cup organizer Mr. Danny

Jordaan stated that, “expectations about the impact of 30 days of football were unrealistic.” According to Johannesburg-based

researcher Dale McKinley, the South Africa World Cup was “a success for Fifa

and the corporate sponsors made a lot of money, but it left local businesses

and the state floundering.” Four years after what they dubbed as ‘the giraffe stadium’ was built in Nelspruit,

the residents of Matasfeni Village still live in poverty, with a borewhole as their only water supply.

“Things didn’t go as planned,” said Mr Imaan Milanzi a community laison said,

“They first promised to supply water, upgrade houses and roads. But they just

built the stadium and disappeared.”

It raises the question of the logic for developing nations to invest exuberant

amounts of money to cater for international standard luxuries which its own

people cannot afford to enjoy such as private boxes and club seats for

Celebrities and FIFA officials. According to the researchers from the Journal

of African Economies, for developing countries, to host mega events is a “potentially

successful yet hugely expensive strategy to develop tourism in developing


India ran a similar fate hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games. According to Business

Today magazine, the Games cost India an estimated 600 billion rupees ($10

billion US) making the Commonwealth Games the most expensive games up to date. While

65 million people live in slums in India, 1.8 million in Delhi alone, the

Commonwealth Games were never accessible to them. They could only hear the

Games from far, even though they continue bearing the costs until today. Some

of these the gigantic stadiums and renovated roads lie in spiking contrast to

the slums surrounding them.

The 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it seems, is following suit. According to estimates,

this year’s World Cup is the most expensive event staged yet. It is costing an

estimated $15- $20 billion US to construct and renovate 12 FIFA approved

stadiums. Some of these stadiums are being constructed in towns that will not

be able to amass the fanatics necessary to maintain them after the World Cup

ends. One of these is the Amazonian City of Manaus which will spend $5- 10

million US annually for the maintenance of their stadium while the revenue that

their third level football team generates is way beyond that amount. In the poor regions of Brazil,

the disparities and inequality became acute as the stadiums began to be built beside

Favelas populated by people who love football but cannot afford tickets to the

games. In some cases the blatant abuse got worst where entire Favelas surrounding

the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, which will host the final games, have

been completely wiped out to beautify the optics for the television audience.

When it comes to tourism revenue generation, already the scales are against the hosting country.

According to Professor Andrew Zimbalist, an economist at Smith College in

Massachusetts during an event like the World Cup tourists get scared away by

high hotel prices and congestion in games. Brazil revenue making is under even

more skepticism, because the negative publicity given by the protests over the

year and surmounting over the past month. Moreover, there are worries that the games will leave Brazil with a Real Estate

economic bubble like what happened to Delhi after the Commonwealth Games.

Unlike South Africa Brazil was not economically ready for the World Cup and had to move funds from Social

Services areas and increase taxes to meet the costs of infrastructure which is

costing four times than the initially estimated amount. This increasingly angered the people.

Some of the greatest Brazilian football playersgrew up in the same marginalized

and ignored demographics that are today protesting. Players like Romario,

Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Pele (one of the best players of all times) used to play football

bare feet on the streets of Sao Paulo as boys because they were too poor to afford football shoes.

Even though Brazilians love football and can boast of its World Cup pedigree in

which it has won five times and has qualified for every single tournament, FIFA’s

exorbitant demands weigh heavy on the country’s poor and has suppressed their passion

for the game. Brazil is protesting against a larger enemy. It is protesting against

the money minded enterprise of FIFA that has contaminated the sport making it into a business.

Brazil is reclaiming the pure soul of football.


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