It was October 2007 when Brazil was announced as the host of the 2014 World Cup. Not many were surprised they picked up the tab for the tournament; they were the sole candidate left in the bidding process.
What it did ignite though were the embers which would soon spawn into flames of protest against such a decision. These were most vividly seen this time last year during the Confederations Cup, when even the final between Spain and the host nation didn’t escape the attentions of some Brazilians.
And it’s easy to see why people were upset. According to reports, bringing the 2014 World Cup to Brazil is costing the country approximately 61 per cent of its education budget.
Corruption, the nation’s education and health systems, public transport costs, and police violence have all come up throughout the protest movements of recent months. Estimates say £7 billion of public money has been spent in total to stage the tournament.
As it’s been pointed out already, Brazilians were told at the start of the process that all the money to be spent on stadiums would be private, leaving the public funds for infrastructure. This has turned out not to be the case.
And yet considering these waves of protest, it’s obvious this was not the way FIFA anticipated it would be. Their hope was undoubtedly that Samba would spread around the streets and flags would wave from windows everywhere as Brazil took pride in the tournament taking place in their backyard.
But the protests matter. They matter because of the way Brazil is perceived to have gone about things; things like the eviction of people from their homes to make way for building the stadiums.
They matter because the richest 10 per cent of Brazilians receive 42.7 per cent of the nation’s income, while the poorest 34 per cent receive less than 1.2 per cent. And they matter because most people living in favelas (slums) struggle to eat properly.
The protests disturbed the “dry-run” of the Confederations Cup last year, and will most likely continue throughout this summer’s tournament – even if held back by security forces.
And yet I can’t help but sense it’s all in vain. As a form of making their voice heard above the noise, it’s been effective. But should it continue throughout, distracting from the showpiece and achieving apparently little?
After all, a decision to host the World Cup 2014 was made; the tournament will take place whatever happens. Yes, Brazilian politicians have to be held to account for the way in which they decide how the country’s precious money is spent, but bear in mind the current government of Dilma Roussef has only been in office since January 2011 and did not hold the post when the World Cup was awarded four years earlier. What choice do the government have other than to be fully behind sport’s biggest global event?
There is much debate as to the exact “legacy” of hosting the competition, but the jobs boost is an obvious one.
As Paulo Esteves, general supervisor at the Rio de Janeiro-based think-tank the BRICS Policy Center said, the protests are not against the World Cup per se. Neither did the government take money from health or transportation budgets to invest in stadiums.
“The World Cup is an opportunity to vocalize and make stronger claims for strengthening the process around political and social inclusion,” he added.
For the next month Brazil will see 64 matches played across 12 cities. While the financial cost will be high, the World Cup also brings prestige, tourism, and new infrastructure, as well as the watching eyes of the world.
It’s not just tourism for the here and now, but for the future. It opens up a country to us that probably less than a fifth of our country’s population has ever visited.
With the eyes of the world upon it both now, and in the future, the onus will be on officials to eradicate further the extreme poverty in some areas of Brazil.
Sadly, the World Cup will mean some get richer. Businesses will benefit and FIFA will rake in the cash. But the World Cup offers something more than what can be got out of it financially.
For example, the celebration of sporting success – for all across society – does not cost.
Sport is able to bring unity and capture the imagination in a way few other things can do.
It brings joy, jubilation and ecstasy as well as hurt, anger and disappointment.
Its power to transform is seen regularly (think London 2012) and it brings people together who otherwise couldn’t care less about one another.
Perhaps most importantly, it calls for us to believe in something better. Not the belief that all wrongs will be righted, but of life offering a new dimension; something more. We find that in certain environments, and played with a sense of sportsmanship, we all can thrive.
Sport offers us moments of brilliance, joy and unity while also causing us to be staggered by the different gifts each one of us offers. Sport means we no longer look to ourselves to achieve everything, but to others too. And to someone or something else other than us.
Let’s believe Brazil 2014 can do that, whoever picks up the Jules Rimet trophy.