The image at left, and the rest featured by this Huffington Post article are a sign that indigenous and under-privileged peoples and underpaid stadium workers of World Cup and Olympics host countries are fed up with being evicted from their homes, having government money spent on flashy stadiums, and being far from financially able to purchase tickets to these local games themselves.
Brazil is getting a lot of attention for its protests by people who think their government should be using funds for more valuable and long-lasting projects such as education and healthcare reform. Qatar is getting attention for its stadium construction workers who are DYING on the job because many of them were recruited illegally and can’t legally request more humane working conditions, leaving them to labor hard for long hours in Qatar’s desert heat. This isn’t normally what we think of when we visualize the grand World Cup.
Why are these issues gaining notice now, and casting a shadow on FIFA’s parade? Well, while most of us will be able to enjoy the excitement of the World Cup from the comfort of our couches and TV screens or at a pub (myself included), and some (millions) even have the means to attend the games in Brazil, there are many people who won’t be able to watch the games. They were “asked” to move out of their homes to make way for a new stadium, or they live in poverty and have to watch as millions of rich tourists flood their towns, benefiting from their government’s spending on this luxurious tournament. They’re not happy about this and they want people to know.
In South Africa 4 years ago, residents were promised that “legacy” would accompany the shiny stadiums in their towns, to help them develop, but they were misled:
“They lied to us and betrayed us,” said Imaan Milanzi, a community liaison officer, pointing to a muddy hole in the ground surrounded by rubbish, bushes and banana plants. Half a dozen people, holding battered old plastic paint tubs, had formed a casual queue, waiting for their turn to access the borehole – their one, trickling water supply. “Things didn’t go as planned,” said Mr Milanzi, of the local government’s redevelopment plans. “They first promised to supply water, upgrade houses and roads. But they just built the stadium and disappeared.”
It should make us feel squeamish that our enjoyment of this event comes at the expense of the inhabitants of the host country. Why is so much money spent for our enjoyment, and not for the improvement of these inhabitants’ lives? Because events like the World Cup attract money, are glamorous, and in high-demand for funders, while combatting poverty is a difficult, less-glamorous task left to ardent non-profit organizations with limited resources.
Does this mean we shouldn’t still enjoy watching this World Cup that has been purchased for our enjoyment? I’m not sure. I know I will feel a little uncomfortable looking at the stadiums and advertisements for expensive athletic clothing, knowing that they are built and made on the backs of Brazil’s poor.
But I also believe that these world-stage tournaments are important arenas for nations to come together for a common purpose. I have never felt like more of a global citizen than while watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games. So then, if so many people are unhappy with how these events are funded and constructed, but we as a global society want to continue enjoying them, the only possible solution is to reform how these events are produced.
Maybe, in order for a city to receive a bid, they must pledge to dedicate a (substantial) portion of the revenue they receive to immediate healthcare/education/infrastructure development, and show concrete plans to follow through. They could be required to ensure that the tournament has no negative infrastructure effects on the host city’s people (like so many Olympic/World Cup stadiums that remain unused after the games and become ruins rather than benefiting anyone).
It could also be a requirement that host countries hire their own local workers that they pay adequately and for whom they provide comfortable working conditions, prohibiting the importation of illegal foreign workers that are underpaid and put in danger. Will this lower FIFA’s and the host government’s profits? Probably. Will this make tournaments more morally acceptable to people affected negatively by them and bolster FIFA and the government’s credibility? I’d like to think so.
These are all only suggestions, and they are more complicated than I have described, but they are the direction I think international events like the Cup and Olympics need to seriously consider taking in order to avoid building anger and resentment and remain celebrated and enjoyed by all.