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As the Encore Fades, Lessons Resound from World Cup 2014

On the relaxed Sunday afternoon of July 13, I ambled aimlessly around Parque Arauco in Santiago, Chile, patiently waiting for the arrival of what I thought was the 4:00 pm kick-off time for the World Cup final match. Smiling in the squint-inducing wintery sunshine, I passed a taxi driver leaning against his stationary vehicle. I caught the voice of an invigorated commentator coming from the car radio, talking about German midfielder Philipp Lahm. Huh, that’s weird, must be pre-game commentary. Then, I ran. I ran for the metro, mentally agonizing over the single speed of its motion back to where I knew I could find a television. Arriving from Lima the day before, I realized I incorrectly calculated the time change. I ran out of the metro, and I arrived at a bar with a crowd for the start of the second half. Forty-five more minutes of a tie turned into overtime, and that was exciting. Then, the young Mario Goetze scored for Germany, and that was also exciting (for some). Then, overtime ended, the few German fans hollered and snapped photos, the crowd dispersed, and the World Cup ended.

Photo Credit: Flickr user alobos Life and used under a Creative Commons license.
Photo Credit: Flickr user alobos Life and used under a Creative Commons license.

After several tense months enveloped by buzzing commentary of potential violent protests and country shutdown, Brazil actually pulled off a relatively well-organized and fluid major sporting event. Working for a NGO in Rio de Janeiro since February, MIIS student Morgan Tucker (MPA ’14) feared for the unknown near future of the country and its citizens, observing and agreeing with the general dissent for the government’s corruption and waste coming from her community and the local news. Under intense global scrutiny, Brazilians felt the pressure.

Tucker confirms that despite the protests, ghastly spending, and poor shortsighted decision-making on behalf of the government and FIFA, the tide changed with the first whistle on June 12. Surprisingly, things turned out well. Protests tapered, stadiums stood, airports functioned and national pride soared. Some business owners praised the economic boost from the winter tourism. Brazil proved its host-country capabilities, and the world participated in a wonderful cultural exchange.

However, after the curtain call and encore of any spectacular live performance, the applause eventually fades, and the spectators leave. The facade that fell on Brazil is starting to lift, revealing the behind-the-scenes realities that never went away. Estimates of the $14 billion cost for the month-long tournament solidify its place as the most expensive soccer tournament in history, while simultaneously kicking sustainability in the face. South Africa spent three times less in 2010. This sets a disgusting precedent for future events and subsequent construction – no doubt Russia will do its best to top it when it hosts the tournament in 2018. Imagine what investments of $1 billion, let alone 14, could do for education and health programs.

Furthermore, leading up to the event, the government introduced Pacifying Police Units (UPPs) in favelas “to bring peace and security.” Countless reports of forced evictions, tear gas and physical abuse also set a nasty precedent for authoritative repression in disadvantaged communities. Sex tourism, a less reported issue in the general headlines, also shot up. Tucker mentioned that several of her Brazilian friends reported harassment and propositions for sex from male tourists. Such behavior helps perpetuate a stereotype of Brazilian women that many seek to break.

The long-term impact of corruption and spending on Brazil remains to be determined. Perhaps the presidential election in October will serve as an indicator. However, using the mix of successes and failures from this tournament, I offer a couple of suggestions to develop the World Cup culture moving forward.

First, FIFA and its corporate sponsors need to relinquish their tax-exempt status. When host countries complain, FIFA doles out million-dollar consolations and “promises” to do right in terms of global development (read: vague). For example, after protests erupted during the 2013 Confederation Cup in Brazil over a rise in public transportation costs, FIFA gave up $100 million in pocket change to appease the controversy. Instead, FIFA should strengthen partnerships with host countries and fund initiatives on the ground and in the relevant moment if it wants to contribute to international development. What are pennies to FIFA could only improve the organization’s image if managed well. More people need to know about this and demand change. Otherwise, FIFA will continue to gain profits upwards of $4.5 billion, like it could from this World Cup alone.

Second, and nearer to my heart, FIFA needs to open its executive board to more women. According to a recent article published by espnW, Lydia Nsekera of Burundi became the first woman elected to the 24-member executive board in 2013. For an organization over a century old, only last year did it decide to institutionalize a spot for women in its aging, patriarchal circle (read: quota). The average age of the executive board is 64, hardly a group rearing for progressive change. If more women had a voice in this excessively influential club, then I believe we would see less corruption and more transparency. With time, we might even see less sex tourism and more participation by and acceptance of women in the world’s most popular sport.

Last Sunday, Germany won because it was the most prepared team of incredibly talented individuals. The other 31 teams lost because they consisted of a couple highly influential individuals surrounded by some other guys (or they just were not good enough). If FIFA and the host country work more like a team moving forward, more than one country will be able to celebrate.

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