I’m not much of a sport-watcher but I like how it can bring people together – as viewers or players – and be an olive branch between people who normally may not connect. I think branches like these are the best. Sport has an acknowledged power to unite people, to offer a bridge between cultures that typically conflict – or perhaps its real power is to offer a distraction from the clashes that alienate us from each other day-to-day. On the other hand, I also find it really disturbing how much money goes into an event like the current World Cup, particularly in host countries where inequality runs deep.
So often the budgets are obscene when contrasted with the level of need felt by the majority of the population, let alone the rest of the world. Seeing it become instantly possible to find the funds to pretty a place for guests, when it’s been apparently impossible to do the same to address many other social issues for decades, is pretty disheartening. It’s easy to see why people protest, as thousands of Brazilians are currently doing.
Events like the World Cup offer an opportunity to make improvements to a country’s infrastructure that benefit its entire population, but in reality they are often used as an excuse to do things like ‘relocate’ the poor further out of city centres, give police and the military greater leeway, and push through developments that wouldn’t typically be approved. Adding to that, inflated prices affect not only tourists, but residents too. The difference being that tourists only have to deal with them for a limited period (and can typically afford it). For residents, there’s no guarantee prices will drop again once the crowds clear out. In the case of Brazil this may prove a very real issue, as the city is also booked to host the 2016 Olympics. From where I’m standing, it’s unlikely this spike to costs like bus fares, food and rent will reverse itself in the interim.
On the flipside, as was the case with the Winter Olympics earlier this year, and the opportunity they offered to protest Russia’s anti-LGBTQ policies, large sporting events can also provide a forum for addressing human rights issues in a very public, global way. Their only limitation is their duration. The real heartbreak would be if we stop talking about the inequality that exists in Brazil once the World Cup is over – and if we fail to miss the fact that this mirrors a gap that exists in many other nations around the world. Brazil isn’t a scapegoat, it’s an illustration of a far more universal issue: the chasm between those who have, and those who don’t.
Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.