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Copa de Cash: saying this is a World Cup for everyone is a cruel joke

The World Cup in Brazil will be a far cry from the inclusive and peaceful celebration it pretends to be, writes Tom Gatehouse

June 12, 2014
7 min read

copadecashPolice evict people from Favela do Metrô-Mangueira, right next to the Maracanã stadium where this year’s World Cup final will take place. Their homes were demolished to make way for World Cup construction, some with the occupants’ belongings still inside

In January, Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff stood alongside FIFA boss Sepp Blatter in Zurich, where Blatter declared that he wants this year’s World Cup to be ‘a special movement for peace’. At the opening ceremony a dove will be released, and the Nobel Foundation has been invited to support the initiative.

This is not a particularly new idea: major international sporting events have long been promoted as a means of creating dialogue between countries, overcoming differences and soothing tensions. The Olympics is the best example, with the five Olympic rings symbolising the unity of the five continents. However, for every feelgood story these events may provide, there are as many examples of countries using sports events to score political points over their rivals. There have even been cases of violence that occurred at the events or erupted as a partial consequence of them, such as the 1969 ‘football war’ between El Salvador and Honduras. But why this ‘special’ emphasis on peace now in Brazil?

Last September, Rousseff had an emergency meeting in Brasília with representatives from the bank Itaú (the largest private bank in the southern hemisphere) and the drinks giant Ambev (the largest company in Latin America), both of which are sponsors of the World Cup and the Brazilian Football Confederation. Both were targeted by protesters during the Confederations Cup last June, and in the meeting they expressed their concern about the possibility of further protests at the World Cup, asking the government for guarantees that it would contain any unrest during the tournament. As a result, a plan of action is being developed in monthly meetings with the other sponsors. Significantly, Itaú and Ambev also managed to exact a promise that the government would begin a publicity campaign for ‘a World Cup of peace’.

Still, the protests continue, in spite of police tactics that are becoming increasingly repressive. Kettling, a favourite method of London’s Metropolitan Police, has been enthusiastically adopted by the Military Police of São Paulo, and is being used to control protests alongside a strategy of blanket arrests in which hundreds of protesters are held and then later released without charge. The use of rubber bullets has also been reauthorised, having been banned for a period last year following an outcry over police excesses. There are fears, too, that live ammunition may be used again, with the police having shot and seriously injured a demonstrator at an anti-World Cup protest in January. Government discourse has been increasingly authoritarian, with Rousseff recently declaring that World Cup security will be ‘heavy’ and promising to mobilise the army in order to keep the peace.

Demolition job

At the January meeting, Blatter also insisted that he wants the World Cup to help end racism and discrimination. ‘Such a multi-cultured country, where all of the world’s races may be found, provides the possibility for interventions against racism and discrimination,’ he said.

Just two weeks beforehand, shock troops had occupied the Favela do Metrô, in the north of Rio, to clear the ground for demolitions. It is estimated that at least 170,000 people across Brazil will lose their homes due to infrastructure projects relating to the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. These evictions are clearly discriminatory, principally affecting people in informal housing in poor neighbourhoods and favelas, many of whom have no means of proving that they are the legitimate owners of their property. While there may be no explicitly racist agenda, it’s fairly safe to assume, given the demographics of Brazil’s poor communities, that most of those being evicted are black.

These projects are worth a lot of money. The construction firm Odebrecht, for example, is responsible for four of the 12 World Cup stadiums, at a total cost of R$2.8 billion (£744 million). Two of these, in Salvador and Recife, are the result of public-private partnerships, giving Odebrecht the right to participate in the management of the stadiums when they are complete. In Rio, the state government paid a consortium including Odebrecht to renovate the Maracanã.

The only stadium of the four that was supposed to be paid for entirely by private investment was the Itaquerão, in São Paulo, the result of a deal between Odebrecht and the Corinthians football club. However, with the tournament fast approaching and the stadium still not ready, the city and state governments have been forced to contribute. Moreover, Odebrecht’s investment has been covered by the Brazilian Development Bank – a public institution – in the form of low-interest loans. In short, these projects would never have happened without state intervention.

FIFA exclusion zones

The government has also approved new laws for the World Cup, including the Lei Geral da Copa, which, among other things, gives FIFA the right to operate exclusion zones of up to two kilometres around the stadiums. The aim is to guarantee FIFA’s corporate partners exclusive rights to trade and publicity within these areas. Any unofficial street vendors caught operating near the stadiums may face severe penalties, ranging from fines to custodial sentences of up to a year.

For the sociologist Orlando Santos Jr, ‘To give FIFA the right to manage urban space is very serious . . . It creates a precedent for subordinating the management of public space to private interests.’ Meanwhile, Coca-Cola (a tournament sponsor, naturally) is running an ad campaign ahead of the tournament that cheerfully welcomes us to ‘A Copa de Todo Mundo’ (‘A World Cup for Everyone’, or ‘the World’s Cup’).

Despite the government’s repeated assurances that the World Cup will generate employment and create wealth for Brazil, there is little evidence to suggest that these sporting mega events bring any lasting benefits to the host countries. In Brazil’s case, the benefits are especially hard to envisage. The cost of the event has ballooned to an estimated R$30 billion (£7.6 billion), more than double the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with over 90 per cent of this having been taken from the public purse.

In an interview with the online publication Carta Maior last October, Dilma Rousseff’s mentor, ex-president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said that ‘politics is the only thing that can rival the power of the market’. This has been a recurring theme in Workers’ Party (PT) discourse: only good government can protect the citizenry when the interests of capital may be harmful to it. Unfortunately, the preparations for the World Cup provide countless examples of how government in Brazil has spent vast amounts of public money in order to create conditions favourable to private interests.

As the economists Simon Cooper and Stefan Szymanski write, ‘The Brazilian World Cup is best understood as a series of financial transfers.’ Money is being transferred from the Brazilian taxpayer to FIFA, the tournament’s corporate sponsors, construction companies and Brazilian football clubs. This makes the appropriation of a discourse of peace, justice and universalism to promote the tournament all the more offensive. This World Cup is about just the opposite.

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