Dueling Column: The World Cup has a very high social cost

Clara Barros/Staff Writer

In just a few days, we will find out the winner of this year’s World Cup. Though I am not a fan of soccer, as a Brazilian, I almost have a national duty to follow the competition.

In the midst of the excitement, the tears, and the feelings of sportsmanship the World Cup evokes in us, we usually ignore the dark shadow that hovers the mega event.

The World Cup is not just about soccer. As a friend of mine said it the World Cup is in spite of soccer. Wherever and whenever it happens, it’s impact is invariably heavy on workers and generally on the poor.

The negative legacy, sociologist Sabrina Fernandes highlights, ranges from “large sums of public money spent on the event” to “urban property speculation, gentrification, forceful removals,” unfair labor conditions, deaths, fraud, corruption, million-dollar contracts, police violence, expensive tickets, and stadiums that become useless.

In the last World Cup, hosted in Brazil, the heaviest burden Brazilians had to carry was not the 7-1 defeat by Germany it was the social brutality of the preparations for the event. Countless poor families were forcefully removed from their homes for the construction of stadiums and other infrastructures.

In fact, it was common for inhabitants of favelas and poor neighborhoods to find out their homes would be demolished through the newspaper. The Brazilian homeless population also suffered immensely, disappearing or being abused in the hands of the state, who strived for a “cleansing” of the streets.

One of the questions Brazilian protesters asked was: World Cup for whom? As the police repressed them with rubber bullets and pepper spray, it became clear that it wasand isa World Cup for “big capital, large construction companies, property owners, and the elites who can access the games,” in Fernandes’ words.  

And then there’s FIFA.  

Although soccer’s world governing body is registered as a non-profit, it is in reality a multibillion-dollar entity. FIFA imposes the costs of organizing the World Cup on the host nation, who has to grant it tax exemptions. With many FIFA officials arrested on corruption charges, FIFA turned a $2.6 billion profit with the last World Cup.

This year’s event in Russia is no different. As FIFA grows richer, the Human Rights Watch reported the failure to provide employment contracts and regular wages to workers, deaths and serious injuries, intimidation of strikers, and many individuals working in extreme cold. Some workers only received one break for lunch in a nine-hour work day under temperatures reaching -13ºF.

The next World Cup, in Qatar, is still four years from now and already 1,200 workers have died in its construction, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. The majority are working in conditions similar to slavery, with up to 12-hour-long workdays and, ironically, under extreme heat — with temperatures easily reaching 122ºF.

This is not an advocacy for boycotting the World Cup.

Rather, it’s an invitation to reflect about its profiteers and its survivors or its real winners and real losers, beyond the borders of the stadiums.

Ultimately, it’s an invitation to struggle, like my Brazilian peers once did. World Cup for whom?



The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.


Photo by Fauzan Saari on Unsplash.

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