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Brazil’s poor: Let them eat soccer

Brazil hosts 2014 soccer World Cup while the FIFA scores big profits

South Africa 2010 & Brazil 2014: Past and Present
The day before the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA (soccer’s international governing body) gave a speech to the 64th FIFA Congress assembled in São Paulo. Many Brazilians simmered with anger over allegations of corruption and the $11.5 billion of public money spent on building stadiums and infrastructure to meet FIFA’s exacting requirements for hosting the tournament. Brazil ranks only behind South Africa (host of the 2010 World Cup) for the worst income inequality in the world and many in the country are furious over the government’s prioritizing of an international soccer tournament over investing in the health care, education, and social services of its own citizens. Massive protests over the billions spent on the World Cup erupted throughout Brazil in June 2013 when it hosted soccer’s Confederations Cup. Brazil’s national team won the Confederations Cup and thus helped to defuse some of the anger that manifested during this so-called “Brazilian Spring.” During the subsequent year, FIFA seemed most concerned about whether the stadiums in Brazil would be ready in time for the tournament. Two weeks prior to the World Cup kickoff, hundreds of indigenous protestors clashed with police in Brasilia while activist groups such as the Homeless Workers Movement spotlighted the marginalization and displacement of the poor. Brazilian NGO Moradores do Rua estimates that 1% of the country’s population (approximately 1.8 million people) is homeless. The head of FIFA was also speaking in São Paulo, a city in the midst of a five-day transit strike that was wreaking havoc on the 4 million people who use the metro every day. Brazilians’ lack of enthusiasm about hosting the tournament, the ongoing protests, and the efflorescence of anti-FIFA graffiti in Rio and São Paulo all pointed to widespread disenchantment just days before the first ball would be kicked.

According to an Associated Press poll conducted before the tournament, 75 percent of Brazilians believe that corruption was endemic in the construction projects undertaken for the World Cup. How else to account for cost overruns on stadiums like the Estádio Nacional in Brasilia—a city with no professional team—whose price tag ($900 million) was three times the initial estimate? How else to understand why the construction consortium of Andrade Gutierrez and Via Engenharia “billed the government $1.5 million” for a job that was supposed to cost $4,700?” As the AP report on corruption in Brazil ahead of the World Cup noted:
“There’s collusion of the Brazilian governmental elite with the business elite, and the game is rigged in their favor,” said Christopher Gaffney, a professor at Rio’s Federal University whose research focuses on the country’s preparations for the World Cup and 2016 Olympics. “This was an opportunity to make a lot of money and that’s what’s happened.”

Before the protests during the Confederations Cup in June of 2013, it’s hard to imagine FIFA was overly concerned with “image problems” in advance of the tournament. After all, the World Cup would be held in Brazil, spiritual home of the beautiful game (Jogo bonito), land of the fun-loving, Samba dancing, five-time champions. What could possibly go wrong? The narrative of the 2014 World Cup was not supposed to be about protests, transit strikes, and Brazilians venting about corruption and profiteering by the country’s elite.

In an address to the nation 48 hours before the tournament kicked off, President Dilma Roussef implored Brazilians to support their national team, promised to punish corruption, and appealed to Brazil’s 200 million citizens to live up to their reputation for cheerfulness: “I’m certain that in the 12 host cities, visitors are going to mix with a happy, generous and hospitable people, and be impressed by a nation full of natural beauty and which fights each day to become more equal.” She also told those who were critical of the World Cup that Brazil had spent 212 times more on health and education than on what it had invested in the World Cup stadiums since 2010. Maybe the soothing words of the president along with a Brazilian victory over Croatia in the opening match was all FIFA needed to dispel the stormy clouds threatening to rain on soccer’s quadrennial carnival. Yet, sadly for Sepp Blatter, more serious issues than disgruntled Brazilians and a rocky start to the 2014 tournament were on FIFA’s horizon.

A country that wants to host the World Cup must prepare an elaborate bid for FIFA that explains why the bidding nation is capable of handling the economic, logistical, and construction responsibilities connected to the tournament. Part of the bidding process involves kowtowing to FIFA and assuring the organization that no barriers to the profitability of the tournament will be erected. South Africa’s winning presentation to host the 2010 World Cup included a letter that stated: “our Bid is based on internationally established business principles and is substantially funded by leading multinational companies.” Furthermore, “we offer FIFA passion, profitability, precision (in administration) and the spirit of the African people for Africa’s first World Cup.” FIFA’s official sponsors such as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Budweiser happily co-opted “the spirit of the African people” in advertisements and songs such as Shakira’s “Waka Waka” (created for Sony). While FIFA enjoys a bit of exotic flavoring with their tournaments they are most interested in hardboiled matters like tax-concessions from host countries and protection of intellectual property. As a recent article in Forbes outlined, FIFA’s tax exemptions for the 2014 World Cup amount to $250 million according to the Brazilian IRS and include “freedom from corporate tax, income tax, VAT, excise duties, local tax, and any other taxes, no matter what other tax laws might require.” In South Africa, agreements between host-cities and FIFA included “legally enforced exclusion zones” around stadiums and “fan parks” that criminalized food and merchandise vendors who were not licensed to sell official products. Soccer’s governing body also set up 56 “FIFA World Cup Courts” in South Africa that enabled the quick processing of so-called criminal acts connected to the tournament. As the Guardian reported, the courts aggressively went after “ambush marketing” at games while also taking up such cases as that of a “Soweto man who stole two cans of Coke, two mini cans of soda water, and one mini can of lemonade from a Soccer City corporate hospitality lounge.” FIFA is powerful enough to demand changes in laws that hinder its official sponsors from maximizing their profits. In Brazil, the so-called Budweiser bill lifted a stadium ban on alcohol that was passed 11 years ago to curb violence in the stands. Due to FIFA’s pressure, Budweiser and Brahma beer “owned by Belgian-Brazilian company Anheuser-Busch InBev” are available for sale at the 2014 World Cup. As FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke insisted in January 2012: “Alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we’re going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant, but that’s something we won’t negotiate.” Aside from FIFA’s bullying and legislative interventions, a host nation must also absorb, among other things, the transformation of its cities into tourist friendly zones, an increased carbon footprint, and a militarized police force. While Brazilians are no strangers to the latter, the security bill for the 2014 World Cup is a whopping $900 million. According to the New America Foundation, this expenditure includes such essential post-9/11 items as “U.S. military bomb-disposal robots, a bunch of Israeli drones, a British mobile scanner that can spot a plastic 3-D printed pistol, and 90 Chinese-built X-Ray Inspection systems—not to mention facial recognition goggles, high-tech surveillance helicopters, digital command centers, and much more besides.”

FIFA’s projected revenue for the 2014 World Cup is $4 billion with a profit of $2 billion. The organization also has a reserve fund of approximately $1.4 billion. Considering the sums of money involved it’s hard to remember that FIFA is a not-for-profit under Swiss law and therefore pays no tax in Switzerland on revenue it makes from organizing the World Cup. As an article in Forbes notes, while FIFA pays no taxes to either the Brazilian or Swiss governments, the estimated $576 million of prize money that the organization will dispense to member associations participating in the tournament is taxable. FIFA makes its billions from ticketing sales and television and marketing rights. Meanwhile, the host nation is left to profit from increased tourism and the global publicity generated by the world’s most popular sporting event. The governments of both South Africa and Brazil have used the World Cup as an opportunity to burnish their reputations as stable and safe countries ripe for business investment and neoliberal globalization.

According to South Africa’s National Department of Tourism, the 2010 World Cup brought the country $527 million in revenue. The country spent roughly $3.5 billion in public funds to build and update stadiums and infrastructure for the month-long tournament. Many of the stadiums, which are expensive to maintain, have become “white elephants” with few prospects of being used in the future. The Guardian reported in 2010 that the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit cost £118 million to build and hosted only 4 of the 2010 tournament’s 64 matches “which works out at almost £30m per game, or £327,500 per minute.” One resident of the poor township that surrounds the Mbombela stadium was quoted in The Guardian saying: “We can’t go inside. We can’t afford tickets and they failed to invite us. Even my mother doesn’t know what’s inside the stadium. Is there grass or not? Are the seats blue? They didn’t give us the chance.” Tickets to matches for the 2014 World Cup are similarly way beyond the means of ordinary Brazilians. Like in Brazil, charges of bribery, corruption, and profiteering are coupled with the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Nine South African whistleblowers who exposed bribery and corruption connected with the Mbombela Stadium died under suspicious circumstances (poisoning, shootings, etc.). While construction companies, FIFA, and its partners profited handsomely from the 2010 World Cup, the legacy of the tournament for millions of South Africans is a bitter one.

Qatar 2022: The Future
On December 2, 2010 the 22 members of FIFA’s Executive Committee awarded the hosting rights of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. The Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar is smaller than Connecticut and has zero soccer history, but it is also the world’s richest country with a per capita GDP of approximately $100,000. Qatar’s investment in the 2022 World Cup would dwarf Brazil’s $11.5 billion World Cup (the most expensive tournament yet) as well as the $51 billion spent by Russia on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Doha News “estimates the cost of organizing the 2022 World Cup at $220 billion, over 70 times what South Africa spent on the 2010 tournament.”

During the months of June and July, when the 2022 tournament would be played, the average temperature in Qatar is 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Qatar has floated the idea of building air-conditioned stadium since athletes cannot safely compete for 90-minute matches in these conditions. FIFA has also pursued the possibility of shifting the 2022 World Cup to the winter months when the temperatures in Qatar are only in the 80s. Soccer associations around the world (especially in Europe) are furious with this proposal as it would interfere with domestic league schedules as well as create a host of logistical and contractual nightmares. Aside from the 14 members of the Executive Committee who voted for Qatar, the rest of the world was mystified as to why FIFA had blundered into such an unpromising situation. The stench from the Qatar decision was overwhelming given FIFA’s long history of corruption. Mohammed bin Hammam, a Qatari billionaire who was the president of the Asian Football Confederation (one of FIFA’s six regional confederations) from 2002 to 2011, has been accused of spending $5 million to bribe soccer officials and advance the Qatari World Cup bid. In 2011, Sepp Blatter appointed US attorney, Michael Garcia to conduct an ethics investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups after allegations of shadowy backroom dealings became unrelenting. According to a profile in The Independent, Garcia “served as a counter-terrorism prosecutor for President George Bush, and steered the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency between 2003 and 2005. In 2011, he was tipped to lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation, before President Barack Obama extended the term of Robert Mueller.” Garcia’s findings on FIFA are due to be released in mid-July.

Regardless of whether Garcia’s report concludes that Qatar won the right to host the 2022 World Cup through unethical means, the true scandal is not one of corruption but of a grotesque disregard for human life. While the World Cup in Qatar is eight years away, over 1,000 migrant workers, primarily from India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, have already died on infrastructure and stadium projects connected with the tournament. By contrast, nine Brazilian construction workers died over the course of preparations for this summer’s World Cup and two died before the 2010 World Cup. Migrant workers who come from South Asia to Qatar work under extremely dangerous conditions and live in cramped, squalid accommodations. While some of these migrants have committed suicide the majority of deaths were caused by cardiac arrest stemming from dehydration and overwork in the scorching heat of the desert. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) estimates that at least 4,000 migrant workers will die in Qatar before the first match of the 2022 World Cup if labor conditions are not drastically changed. While the impoverished migrant laborers of Qatar constitute more than half of the population of the emirate they are enslaved by the kafala system that governs relations between workers and employers. Under kafala, employers have complete authority over their workers and can decide, among other things, whether and when someone can leave the country. Workers regularly have their passports confiscated, are paid less than they were initially promised, go unpaid for months, and are forced to work 11 hours a day, six days a week. As they are not paid regularly, both workers in Qatar and families in their sending nations often go into debt to feed themselves and stay financially afloat.

Confronted with reports of the working conditions and deaths of migrant workers FIFA has revealed the depths of its moral bankruptcy. While FIFA’s Theo Zwanziger described the situation in Qatar as “absolutely unacceptable,” he went on to say: “This feudal system existed before the World Cup. What do you expect of a football organization? FIFA is not the lawmaker in Qatar.” Zwanziger’s words blithely disregard that FIFA forced the host nations of the last two World Cups to change laws that impeded the profit making of their sponsors. But more importantly, he disavows the ethical responsibilities and repercussions of giving the World Cup to Qatar. Indeed, by pretending to have no sway over the politics of sovereign nations FIFA ignores its own past. In 1961 it expelled apartheid South Africa from FIFA and did not readmit the country until 1991 after the release of Nelson Mandela. As the International Trade Union Confederation has argued, “If FIFA demand Qatar abolish kafala and respect fundamental international rights, it will happen.” Unfortunately, the gap between the reality in Qatar and FIFA’s rhetoric about social responsibility has become breathtaking. FIFA’s Mission & Statutes declare: “The world is a place rich in natural beauty and cultural diversity, but also one where many are still deprived of their basic rights. FIFA now has an even greater responsibility to reach out and touch the world, using football as a symbol of hope and integration.”

By selecting two autocratic countries—Russia and Qatar—to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, FIFA has revealed its cynicism and preference for working with authoritarian governments. Speaking about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, FIFA’s Secretary General Jérôme Valcke said: “I will say something which is crazy, but less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup. … When you have a very strong head of state who can decide, as maybe Putin can do in 2018 … that is easier for us organizers than a country such as Germany… where you have to negotiate at different levels.” Despite presenting itself as a quasi “United Nations of soccer,” FIFA is a Realpolitik cesspool and crooked money machine that distances itself from accountability while selling the world its most popular sport.

Which gets us back to where we started (viz., Sepp Blatter’s remarks to the 64th FIFA Congress on the eve of the 2014 World Cup). Gazing at the multiple turds floating in the FIFA punch bowl, what did the president say to the assembled delegates in São Paulo? “FIFA is shaping society. My vision for FIFA in this changing world is that we become one of today’s pioneers of hope. We must carry the flame of honesty, responsibility and always of respect. If not, we will betray the spirit of this game we love.” Soccer’s international governing body is indeed shaping and has helped to shape society. By not supporting worker or human rights, by awarding the World Cup to autocratic regimes, and by making billions of tax-free dollars in nations with vast income inequality FIFA resembles a model corporation for the 1%. Blatter continued: “Football is about freedom, equality and respect. People have the right to want a better world for their children to grow up in.” It’s a shame that Dhun Kamari Damai and Saguna Rana Khawas, the widows of two Nepali migrant workers who died in Qatar in the past year couldn’t be on hand to hear Blatter’s soothing words. Ms. Khawas is a 19-year old widow with an 18-month-old son. As she said about her deceased husband in an ESPN documentary about Qatar: “I remembered all the good things he talked about in the past. I was concerned with our son and how to raise him. … I received no financial aid [from the company that hired him], just the dead body and the last rites expenses. It’s difficult. I look at my son and console myself.”

Faced with criticisms about Qatar and Brazil perhaps Blatter would respond with the Latin phrase: Per aspera ad astra (“Through adversity to the stars.”). Not content with global domination, FIFA’s president has ambitions for the organization that extend beyond Planet Earth. As he said in his speech: “We shall wonder if one day our game is played on another planet? Why not? Then we will have not only a World Cup we will have inter-planetary competitions. Why not?”

“I think the whole country is caught up with the World Cup fever. You can feel the excitement in – here, in Rio de Janeiro, and throughout the country. There are thousands of fans from all over the world especially from Latin America, and it’s just a big party. You can see the streets are lined with the Brazilian national colors of green and yellow – flags everywhere. So it seems like the party atmosphere has taken over Brazil and has overshadowed any concerns about the protests. … Obviously, [Brazilians] are not happy about all the money that was invested in the stadiums – billions of dollars, which they feel should have been invested in schools, hospitals and just generally in services. But once the ball starts rolling on the pitch, seems like everybody forgot about that. The fact that they won the opening match against Croatia made things that much better. I’m sure if they had lost the match, maybe the atmosphere wouldn’t be so festive right now.” -Ricardo Zuniga (Associated Press, Latin America sports editor) interviewed on NPR, June 17, 2014

“Thiago Santos, 77, remembers the misery of Brazil’s defeat in the 1950 final at the Maracanã and the unease that many felt about supporting the 1970 team during the dictatorship. But he said moods change along with results. “We always live in a crisis, but the football comes along and we forget everything.” The Guardian, June 11, 2014.

“Perhaps even more troubling is the false sense of unity that soccer victories produce. Graciela Daleo remembers celebrating with “the guy who had tortured you with electric drills” after Argentina’s Men’s World Cup victory in 1978.” -Gabriel Kuhn in Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics

Sam Markham is an archivist and artist who lives in New York City. He spent his childhood playing soccer in Spain and Germany and still loves the beautiful game despite the best efforts of FIFA.

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