By Abi Lillicrap
On June 12th, the tournament we waited four years to grace our television screens began, introducing us to the football-loving, carnival-crazy side of Brazil. So far, the tournament has been unpredictable and exciting. At the time of writing the group stages are yet to produce a draw. But the football has been overshadowed to some extent by serious protests over the cost of hosting the World Cup, including several strikes. The competition has cost Brazil over £7 billion. For a country so split between modernity and poverty, this seems an excessive, and to some an unnecessary, expense.
Football as a sport is renowned for its extravagant price tag, from players’ salaries to sponsors. However, the World Cup should be a competition involving not just patriotism but also unity. It should not simply be for a privileged few. In the rural areas of Brazil 51% live in poverty and the images of the slums have become iconic of this statistic. In Brazil, they call these slums ‘favela’. The biggest, situated in Rio de Janeiro, is home to around 150,000 people. Conditions are overcrowded and the area is often associated with crime, specifically drug trafficking and gang wars. Most people who live there are employed causally and poorly paid. Most will never be able to leave. The football being hosted from a stadium just past the borders of these slums somehow feels wrong and can only further encourage further class separation. It clearly divides the country, for the rest of the world to see. The rich parts of the country have been trying to create an illusion, but the strikes and protests which preceded the tournament have helped to expose the real issues facing Brazil today.
Protestors have been striking for better working conditions and improved public services. The cost of hosting the World Cup has meant that these rights have been put on the back foot. Specifically, the issues of improvement in education and social equality, due to the unequal distribution of wealth, have been central to the protesters’ demands. Protestors feel that the country’s social issues are being ignored as their money is being used unnecessarily on the spectacle of the World Cup. This resentment felt about Brazil’s social issues has led to demonstrations directly against the competition, with one protest dying down just hours before the opening match in Rio de Janeiro.
The expense involved in football is ever increasing, but is it right that a country, once it has been awarded the World Cup, should be expected to put so much money into a month’s worth of football? Should being selected as the host nation mean that your own country’s problems should be disregarded until the competition is over?
As you stress over the upcoming England matches and enjoy watching the sunset over Rio, make sure you are aware of the other side of Brazil, hiding just beyond the stadium.