Editorial: 2014 Brazil World Cup Unrest Echoes South African Games

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Although there were initial misgivings in hosting the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, business, pop-culture and national leaders campaigned to bring the competition to the newly emancipated country. The games were ultimately a success. Stadiums were completed on deadline and social unrest didn’t disrupt the tournament, but turmoil preceding and following the matches echo the current situation in South America.

Like all hallmark sporting events, financial output is mainly to blame for the unrest.

During the 34th anniversary of the Soweto uprising against apartheid, about 3,000 South Africans protested on June 16, 2010 against the “FIFA mafia,” and the millions spent despite millions of impoverished residents.

Protest organizer, Allan Murphy, told Mail & Guardian “If we have money for stadiums, we should not have any homeless people or people having to live in shacks.”

Crying Social Inequality
South African pride over hosting the World Cup — after a tumultuous recent history — made protests small scale in comparison to Brazil.

Protests began throughout Brazil and enclaves of the diaspora as the multibillion-dollar state investment in the new football stadiums left Brazilians crying social inequity and corruption.

What started as protests against increases in bus, train and metro ticket prices soon shifted to anger over high taxes not benefiting the poor, and a spending budget almost three times that of South Africa’s.

This time last year, Brazil rallies reaching into the millions overshadowed the FIFA Confederations Cup soccer tournament. Rubber bullets, tear gas and dogs kept protesters away.

While Brazilian construction companies barely made deadlines and 2014 World Cup costs ballooned from estimated millions to over $11 billion — schools, healthcare systems, welfare, hospitals and tech infrastructure remain poorly maintained and underfunded.

Football is Supposed to ‘Bring Hope’
FIFA boss, Sepp Blatter told Brazil’s O Globo newspaper that he is aware many Brazilians are unhappy, but that the games will bring an improvement to the nation’s infrastructure.

“Football is here to unite people. Football is here to build bridges, to generate excitement, to bring hope,” he said in an interview. “Brazil asked to host the World Cup. We didn’t force it on them. It’s obvious that stadiums need to be built but that isn’t the only thing in a World Cup: there are highways, hotels, airports and a lot of other items that remain as a legacy.”

Many Brazilian residents say these plans are short reaching. In a viral YouTube monologue, a woman named Carla Dauden disputes the political argument that the World Cup and Olympics improve the nation.

“We’ve been paying all these taxes for what? The truth is that most of the money that comes from the games and the stadiums goes straight to FIFA, and we don’t even see it.”

While Brazilian protesters currently shout “There Will Be No World Cup,” South Africans cried and chanted when they learned they would be hosting the world’s biggest sporting event in May 2004. Despite, high unemployment, an HIV/AIDs epidemic and poverty, country leaders like then-president Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela considered it an opportunity to showcase their country positively.

In Capetown’s Green Point Stadium, a plaque quotes former president Mbeki: “The World Cup will be remembered as a moment when Africa stood tall and resolutely turned the tide of centuries of poverty and conflict.”
The games did help the nation economically amidst a recession and upgraded transportation infrastructure, but like Brazil, responsibility weighed heavily on taxpayers.

So, what about the improvements that were left behind?
Most stadiums sit in the country like white elephants creating costs instead of gains.

Circling Back to Infrastructural Improvements
Although South Africa’s rapid metro system, Gautrain, was started before the World Cup announcement, construction was ramped up for the game’s expected fans and tourists. Now, it is expensive to use and runs outside the area where most of the South African workforce lives.

Some cities can afford this and re-utilize these investments for other purposes. South Africa needed the boost in pride, positive global coverage and presence on the world stage, but financially wasn’t ready.
For almost 50 years, apartheid and racist practices ruled the land. In 2004, when the World Cup named South Africa host, democracy was a new concept.

Former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk began negotiations to end apartheid in 1990, these negotiations culminated multiracial democratic elections in 1994.

Over ten years later, in preparation for the World Cup games, costs meant cutbacks on much needed capital expenditure. The stadium in impoverished province capital, Nelspruit, costs the equivalent of $185,907,630 (137 million Euro).

“Instead of its despised status as a pariah state, South Africa is hosting 31 soccer teams from around the world, as well as the thousands of fans that have come to cheer them on,” The Star, a South African newspaper wrote in a 2010 editorial. “But post-apartheid South Africa is not a sea of love. It still has serious and potentially even explosive levels of inequality and poverty.”

Five miles from the 2010 host city Pretoria, thousands lived without electricity or running water.
Residents from the Oukasie Informal Settlement in Brits protested against housing in 2010, and squatters rioted repeatedly over lack of proper homes more than 15 years after the start of South African Democracy.
Many South Africans residing in hostels or squatting quarters near the stadiums were relocated prior to the South African World Cup. Blikkiesdorp, a community of iron shacks housed thousands of evicted poor residents.

Fast forward 4 years, the 2014 World Cup is also being blamed for evictions in Brazilian favelas.

These poor communities have been in place throughout Brazil’s urban areas for decades and house almost 1.5 million people. As World Cup and Olympic prep ramped up, many of these slums in Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre are in the way of construction. Activists say as many as 250,000 are being threatened with eviction.
Just like Brazil’s Maracana stadium getting a $500 million face-lift, the sculptural “African Calabash” of Soccer City in Johannesburg cost the nation $350 million.

Rhodes University academic, Dr. Richard Pithouse may have said it best in a 2009 web posting in regards to South Africa, “We could have mobilized all the money and political will invested in the World Cup for houses, schools, libraries, parks, crèches, hospitals and sports facilities in every part of every city.”

Much of the financial burden of these games is shifted from FIFA to the host nation, yet the football association receives billions in ticket sales and broadcasting rights. When the games are over, many nations are left to pick up the pieces.

Does the temporary glimmer and glory make up for long-term crumbling infrastructure? Is it worth the diversion of funds and energy to the millions of impoverished in need?