Football and Democracy

Protesters in Brasilia, June 2013
Teaser Image Caption
Demonstrierende in Brasilia, Juni 2013

Déjà vu: The criticisms of the World Cup in Brazil are very similar to those made about the World Cup in South Africa. At that time, it was clear, that forecasts about the positive economic effects on South Africa were completely exaggerated (see WM 2010 - Afrika am Ball). After all the costs were calculated, the taxpayers - and even the private companies - had to pay much more than originally estimated. The number of tourists was lower than expected and there were fewer jobs created than estimated, especially for so many young South Africans.

In Brazil, what will happen with the stadiums in Manaus? Who will pay for the very high monthly maintenance costs? The Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, South Africa, was built especially for the World Cup for a total of €100 million. Now, the "white elephant", as all the idle stadiums are called in South Africa, stands empty for at least 350 days of the year. City Hall runs the risk of being responsible for all the maintenance costs, which total €450,000 per year. Shirley Bassey's successful song, "History Repeating", would provide a perfect soundtrack.

This debate and others relating to the political battles that are being fought in offices and on the streets of Brazil over the usefulness and the costs of mega-events, caught fire many months ago. The reality in South Africa is threatening to also come true in Brazil. The economic benefits to the community are minimal, but the costs - especially the social cost - are high. And the preparations for the World Cup have harmed national and international human rights, especially the rights to housing. Civil society organizations in Brazil estimate that at least 170,000 people will be impacted by the transfers while infrastructure work is conducted in the cities.(1)

In cases where there are collective interests or potential security risks, auhtorities can auhtorize mandatory transfers. But international law requires that this type of operation be an exception and that it needs to be well-founded due to the basic guarantee of the right to housing. In addition, there are very clear rules in international law  as well as in Brazilian law: Those impacted need to be well-informed, far in advance: they need to be part of the process, they need to be provided legal counsel, and legal security; financial compensation must be adequate and guarantee at least the same standard of living as that provided by the previous residence; it is preferable that the new residence provided is close to the old ones; the transfers cannot be done at night or in bad weather. But the Brazilian authorities violated almost all of these principles in the cities hosting the World Cup.

City ordinance for all Brazilian districts with more than 20,000 people ensures residents the right to a "sustainable city" and to democratic and participatory urban policies. But these structures are being destroyed because of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games leading to the realization of a new urban model. This new model opens the doors to investors - and this is the reason that residents need to leave. It is a model that invests in a traffic policy that prioritizes tourist roads instead of fulfilling the needs and demands of the population. It is a model that adopts a security policy that contributes very little toward guaranteeing people their rights as citizens, but prefers to secure the events and investments. Thus, the city is acting as a private business in the competition, in which, however, public funds are used for the financial risks but the construction conglomerates and tourism businesses keep the profits. The Brazilian Congress and the authorities approved numerous exceptions over the last five years to important democratic rules to favor private interests. Examples are the waiving of transparent bidding processes for public construction work and increasing of the county's debt ceiling.

It becomes evident how much the elements of hosting a mega-event such as the World Cup are related to democracy. What is encouraging is the fact that it was the Brazilians themselves, who are crazy for football, who went onto the streets to fight for their social rights during the Confederation Cup in June 2013. This changed any preconceptions the government might have had about the outcome. As opposed to what happened in South Africa, or during the summer fairytale in Germany, in 2006, the benefits of the entire undertaking are being questioned in Brazil. Rather than colorful Carnaval images, the government fears images of police confrontations and protesters being dispersed by tear gas, appearing on the front pages of the international press during the World Cup. Brazilians love football and expect the team to be champion for the sixth time. But the protesters - at least the younger ones - want a democratic Brazil, especially one that is socially more equitable,. They want historic inequalities to be resolved,especially those related to public education and health. For that reason, they will not easily accept that more than €8 billion is being spent on a World Cup.

With his origins in France, the FIFA Secretary General, Jérôme Valcke, revealed his particular understanding of democracy. Even before the June 2013 protests, he asserted: "Less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup. When you have a very strong head of state who can decide, as maybe Putin can do in 2018 ... that is easier for us organizers than a country such as Germany ... where you have to negotiate at different levels."

In Brazil the political structure also proved difficult: "There are different people, different movements, different interests, and it's quite difficult to organize a World Cup in such conditions," said Valcke. In other words: the numerous instances where FIFA bypassed and skirted Brazil law, were not enough. Just as well that FIFA expressed itself so clearly: In its current condition and with its current work methods, FIFA represents a risk to democracy. It is good that the Brazilian people are defending themselves against it. Even if it is to protect football.

Translated by Fal Azevedo.