The FIFA World Cup, the largest sporting event in the world, is about to kick off in Brazil this week.
Soccer, or football, as the rest of the world calls it, is the most popular sport in the world–best attended games, most fervently followed, most widespread. And its worldwide Super Bowl kicks off this week.
But if you’ve been following this in the news, then you’ve heard about the protests. For the past year, Brazil has seen protest after protest, in never-ending waves, against the government , FIFA (the organization that organizes the World Cup), and against the tournament itself.
The protests stem from a generalized sense that the social contract has been broken; that the people of Brazil are not going to benefit from the World Cup at all, as the government had initially promised. Rather the corporate sponsors and the corporations of FIFA are gathering up all the benefits and all the profits.
Looking at the numbers, this conclusion doesn’t seem far off. Conservatively, the Brazilian government has spent over $11.7 billion US on the tournament. Most of the money went to build brand new soccer stadiums. That’s over 3 times more than the initial estimates, and it does not include the promised infrastructure– like a high speed train connecting major cities–the sort of improvement that would help ordinary Brazilians after the tournament ends. This quick math does not include the tax breaks given to companies who constructed the stadiums (they paid no taxes), anyone employed by FIFA, (similarly, no taxes), etc. And all that lost tax revenue could have gone to shore up education, health care, etc.
In stark contrast, FIFA stands to pocket $5 billion from the World Cup in 2014. (That’s just FIFA, who, kindly recall, is technically a non-profit organization. If you’d like more on FIFA and their corruption issues, let John Oliver walk you through it.)
I reached out to the Rt. Rev. Francesco Silva, the Presiding Bishop of Brazil, to find out where the local church was in all of this. He stressed that Brazil was thrilled to host the World Cup. Soccer is the favored national sport, and the opportunity to play host to so many people from around the world was a great opportunity and honor.
However, he pointed out that in Porto Alegre–just one city– tax exemptions connected to World Cup construction amounted to more than $12million US. And that was not acceptable.
“As Christians, we believe that the main aim of the government is to provide well-being for its citizens, especially for the most vulnerable. It is so important to reaffirm that Brazilians are not against the event, but against the way the great companies, FIFA and the government managed it. The great companies, FIFA, great building companies…everyone is taking savings [tax exemptions]. And what about the people?
What about the people that are daily in crowded trains and buses? What about children in schools with minimum structure? What about people waiting in the queue for public health services? The most important is people, not money.”
So this week, as millions of people around the world turn their gaze to the soccer pitches in Brazil, hold the church and all the people of Brazil in your prayers. May we come to cherish each other’s flourishing as fervently as we do our games.