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July 20, 2014 | by  | in Opinion Politics |
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Favelas and Football

Police cars aflame, millions marching through the night. Tear gas and riot shields, black bandanas and aerosol paint. This was meant to be Brazil’s Carnival World Cup, but before the football started, it seemed more like a carnival of chaos.

The World Cup’s over and the riots are lost within the aftertaste – bitter, yes, but easy enough to swallow. Pity that the protesters spat a deep truth when they attacked the tournament’s $14 billion cost. Pity that 20 million Brazilians earn less than $2 a day, that the murder rate there is 28 times the one in New Zealand. As Brazilian woman Maria Rodrigues wrote: “The World Cup has no legacy for me or my community. It has just been a big party with public money, a huge disruption… We might be hosting the party, but we’re not on the guest list.”

The economists always told us hosting is a rip-off. Partly, we can blame the maths – when bidding, the country which overestimates the benefits and underestimates the costs will be the country which over-promises and thus wins the rights. But the real culprit is politics. When our leaders need only shout “macroeconomic injection” to throw themselves a good party, we shouldn’t be surprised to find they shout loud.

But again and again and again they’ve been wrong. And if Brazil is any indication, we’ve finally stopped listening.

FIFA’s found the solution: if the people don’t want to pay, find a place where they don’t have the choice. The next World Cup is in Russia, the one after in Qatar. The Economist’s Democracy Index calls Russia an “authoritarian democracy”. Qatar is an unabashed monarchy accused of winning its bid with million-dollar bribes. When your product costs a billion dollars, pawn it to the father who can force his kids to pay.

It’s not just the beautiful game tarred by the muckery of money. At the start of the year, six countries were in contention to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. Poland and Sweden have now withdrawn, blaming a lack of public support, and polls find most Norwegians want to do the same. Ukraine was also in contention, but of course they’ve run into bigger problems. That leaves only China and Kazakhstan. Neither are exactly what you’d call flourishing pluralist democracies.

FIFA earned $4 billion during the World Cup – entirely tax-free, courtesy of Brazilian sacrifice. These are facts that foster fatalism: what else to expect of monopolous multinationals and the greed of the elite? But FIFA are just a sports club. They should have every reason to sacrifice the decadence of their party for the dignity of their game. The problem, of course, is that FIFA have swallowed the corporate ideology of our time. Let’s hope they find the guts to spit it out.

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