What remains after the football matches end

Although often marred by controversy, hosting a World Cup can fuel the momentum to promote social change in the host country down the line.
Photo by Kelly Sato, A C Moraes / Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) / Source: Flickr

Just as today in Russia, in 2014 Brazil hosted an edition of International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) World Cup.

Since that time, the country has been immersed in a debate about rights and social policies with important economic and political implications. Contradictorily, as some of the most passionate people for football, Brazilians are saying they would have preferred education and health instead of hosting a World Cup.

The stimulus seen in Brazil can be considered a prelude of what Russia may expect in the coming years.

An engaged citizenry

Brazil’s 2014 World Cup was preceded by the country’s largest riots and protests of its history. In 2013, more than a million Brazilians occupied the streets against the country’s expenditure to reach the “FIFA standards” required for the coming event.

That expenditure was particularly controversial in a country which historically struggles to implement some of the most basic social policies, such as those related to universal health care and education.

When people went to the streets holding posters which ironically said, “We want health and education with FIFA standards,” they were questioning the country’s effort to meet FIFA’s requirements whilst some of the most basic rights and benefits were still neglected to a large part of Brazilians.

World Cup and corruption

Apart from debating the teams, tactics and star footballers, Brazilians began to question the US $20 billion the event would cost to the country, the political aspects and interests behind the choice of the host cities, and the potential legacy it would leave to the Brazilian people.

Similarly as in Russia, the majority of the football stadiums in Brazil had higher costs than initially budgeted. Some of them have simply become “white elephants” since they were built in cities in which there were not even teams in the first league of Brazil’s football. Finally, six of the twelve stadiums built for Brazil’s World Cup are under investigation because of reports of corruption.

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Not coincidentally, Brazil’s 2014 World Cup was succeeded by scandals of corruption involving FIFA itself. In 2015, seven FIFA’s directors were arrested in Switzerland because of corruption in the choice of 2018 and 2022 World Cup editions (Russia and Qatar, respectively). Three Brazilians were equally accused of participating in the corruption scheme at that time – including the Brazilian Football Confederation’s (CBF) former president.

The choice of the host countries of the three last World Cups was very contentious. Aside from being part of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), the fastest-growing group of emerging economies in the world, South Africa (2010), Brazil (2014) and Russia (2018) also have in common the fact they deal with substantial problems of corruption. According to the Corruption Index 2016, produced by Transparency International, South Africa, Brazil and Russia occupy the 64th, 79th and 131st positions in a ranking of 176 countries, respectively.

More than corruption

However, the cause of Brazilians’ dissatisfaction with the past World Cup is not only because of corruption but rather compounded by it. Within the last four years, people have questioned the country’s willingness to invest so many resources to achieve the standards necessary for the event whilst at the same time it is not able to provide basic facilities to its population.

In spite of the article 25 of Declaration on Human Rights, which states that everybody has the right to a standard of living including necessary social services, Brazil still faces difficulties to supply universal facilities to promote well-being.

For instance, basic education is still a challenge in Brazil: only 56,7% of Brazilian children who started primary education when they were aged 6 were able to conclude secondary school in 2014. Similarly in health, an outbreak of yellow fever exposed the country’s still precarious sanitation conditions this year.

To have hosted a World Cup in a context of such extensive fragility of some of the most basic social policies caused Brazilians to challenge the country’s priorities. This process has even hurt the legitimacy of Brazilian political institutions as instruments to promote the social changes the country needs – generating continued participation by Brazilian civil society for better living standards in the forms of riots and protests, such as the recent truckers’ strike.

A window of opportunities

A World Cup is always an opportunity for the host country to self-promote, as well as to implement some important reforms in the infrastructure of its cities and even to shift the economy. Brazil had this chance four years ago, Russia is having it now.

On the other hand, it also attracts attention and awareness, particularly from its own citizens. In their case, Brazilians perhaps have become more conscious about corruption and their rights after hosting their World Cup, which means the event eventually is also a window of opportunity to promote positive social changes.

It is currently a question of whether this window of opportunity for social progress and change will be kept opened for the future, and Russia’s turn is soon to come.

Human RightsOpinion
Diego da Silva Rodrigues

Diego is an applied economist interested in policy evaluation and quantitative methods. His main interests are around family issues, such as marriage, parenting, gender, fertility and children, being member of the International Network of Child Support Scholars (INCSS) and the Parenting Culture Studies Postgraduate Network. Diego has also publications in migration and health economics, and is currently involved with human rights and democracy activism in South America. At present, he is completing his PhD at the University of Kent, UK, and is lecturer in Economics at IESGO, Brazil.
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