A key point of protest around how the 2014 World Cup has played out has been the disproportionate allocation of funds to Cup-related projects, at the expense of other much-needed social services. For example, a stadium built in the small city of Manaus cost US $270 million to build, 75% of which was federal money. All this despite the fact it will only be used for four Cup games, and cost the city $250,000 per month in upkeep once the tournament is over. In other centres, low income communities have been pushed out of their homes and deeper into favelas to make way for similar Cup-related developments, and are also forced to deal with price hikes ostensibly targeted at tourists.
While it’s true decisions around how federal funds are allocated belong to the Brazilian government, I believe there’s a broader, global responsibility to ensure that vulnerable groups within the populations of host countries are looked after when an event the size of the World Cup comes to town. The imbalance in how funds have been spent in Brazil, when contrasted with the extreme poverty that exists within the country, is itself at odds with soccer’s reputation as a sport of the people – a sport loved the world over, that can be played by anyone with access to a clear stretch of ground and a ball.
Development itself isn’t wrong; parameters are always shifting and change is par for the course. It’s not whether it happens, but how that’s important. As Dom Glamuzina discusses in this article, and as Greer Lees also reflects, decisions about how cities are developed are important as they affect not just our physical spaces, but how we interact socially too. Poor planning can further isolate and create breakages within communities that are already fragile and on the fringes. Alternatively, good planning can encourage communities that are cohesive and well-integrated. Development can encourage connection or disconnection.
The current World Cup could have been used as an opportunity to encourage development within Brazil that prioritised the population’s low income majority, rather than the private, corporate interests of a minority. Tourism may be great in the short term for small business owners and entrepreneurs, and in theory benefits a country’s economy overall, but there’s no guarantee such an influx of funds will trickle down in the long term to those who need it most. By failing to address infrastructural issues that ensure inequality and poverty continue to be endemic in Brazil, developments tailored towards tourists and corporates have proven a slap in the face to people who need a roof over their heads – not multimillion dollar stadiums that are all but guaranteed to be underutilised.
Responsibility for how development happens belongs to all of us: those who work in government and administrative roles; designers and engineers; communities themselves. Humanity is a collective, like it or not, and it makes sense that decisions around how a community functions should be made with the whole in mind. Rather than further marginalising disadvantaged groups, development of any sort should look to ensure these groups are looked after, acknowledging that by structuring communities for equity, rather than to protect the interests of a select few, everyone benefits.
The World Cup has offered an opportunity for Brazil and the world to either respond to, or continue to ignore, the needs of the country’s most vulnerable – and a broader opportunity to address inequality at a global level. I haven’t talked about the impact of gang-related tensions within Brazil, a factor I know adds to the complexity of the situation, but as the country looks towards the 2016 Olympics, I hope there could be a global effort to ensure this next event and others like it are used as opportunities to invest in the broader infrastructure of host countries in long term ways, rather than simply catering to the interests of a small and already wealthy elite.
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.