Can Brazil successfully hold 2014 World Cup amid political turmoil?

Updated: May 07, 2014, 18:03 PM IST

The interplay of politics and sports has always seen intriguing turns. The recently concluded Sochi Winter Games was one such twist in the history of Olympics movement, of sporting events being hijacked to serve altogether a different purpose. In the past, during the Cold War period, countries from either blocs boycotted Games organised in politically alien nations. It was evident from these boycotts that political ends can also be met through sports. And numerous such Games were organised as a part of propaganda tools.

Brazil hosting a FIFA World Cup seems free of such malignant aspects. However, with the outbreak of riots in one of its most populous and well-known cities – Rio de Janeiro, the quadrennial event has once again become a hot topic with many wondering the very purpose of organising such an event in the backdrop of poor public support. The real cause of the riots may not be directly related to the hosting of arguably the most famous event on earth, but the events leading up to the civil unrest in the past few months in the South American country, no doubt, cast a shadow of uncertainty over its peaceful ending.

If Russia had spent an obscene amount of its ruble to host the Olympics, thus projecting itself as a prosperous state, then Brazil is also relying on this FIFA event with the hope of masking its many ills under Samba-esque imagery. Whatever noble thought went into it, now the argument has clearly shifted towards a projectionist manifesto, because Brazil finds itself in the midst of protests and unfinished projects, especially those of Cup stadiums. Their desire to welcome world`s best footballers in the land of Pele, Zico, Socrates, Romario and Ronaldo has seemingly become an expensive dream for many.

And, that`s where the politics come in.

Brazil, besides India and South Africa, is one of the emerging economies of the world, ranking sixth in the world and even outpacing United Kingdom. But equally, it has one of the biggest underbellies. Many of the poor souls, who seem to thrive in new cities grown from urban wasteland, have their basic amenities compromised for the neon-lit gloss. Controlling these people are criminal gangs, again born out of abject living conditions. In fact, the latest outbreak of protests is believed to be started from the favelas, run by organised gangs – which signed peace-truce with elected civil bodies for growth and development, and also keeping in mind the World Cup. Yes, reports of discrimination and brutality by the state-run police and military force are there and such stories have rightly been depicted as socio-economic issues. Combine all of these, and we have a ticking time-bomb.

The sudden boom in construction and all the “coming-out” messages from the government have frightened and forced the impoverished lot to retrospect. `Why is the government doing this? How has Brazil suddenly become so wealthy that it is able to organise the World Cup, which costs billions of Brazilian real?` The estimated sum to be spent during this carnival is more than USD 11 billion. In contrast, majority of the Brazilians don`t have access to public transport, which will be a major issue during the six-week event. Besides, many Brazilians complain about poor health care systems and lack of good education institutes. The country is also facing a pressing deadline to finish the stadiums before the tournament starts on June 12. Indeed, a clue to the under-preparedness, possibly due to the lack of fund and its mismanagement.

The Brazilian situation is certainly different from the ones that pertained to pre-1991 sporting events, and of course the Sochi and Beijing games. But it has all the right ingredients to become a blot in the Brazilian history and in the near future, it may well be observed as a catastrophe. And it seems there is no quick fix to these issues plaguing Brazil. The super-stage which was meant to showcase their cultural heritage, an emerging economy and football, is now becoming a headache for the government.

FIFA, which governs the sport, declared that the 2014 World Cup will happen as planned. The Zurich-based organisation mentioned, to allay the fears, the example of issues faced in the run-up to the South African edition. With 209 national associations, FIFA is truly the universal organisation and let`s hope their forecast proves right. For the love of the game.

More importantly, the country has also earned the right to host the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. Coupled with the existing socio-economic conditions, these sporting mega-events may well provide negative press for a country which is known for its love of sports, arts and free-spirited living. The recent hard-hitting remark made by none other than John Coates, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) vice-president that the much maligned and delayed Rio preparations are “worst ever” should serve as a wake-up call for the Dilma Rousseff-led government.

If the country falls short in fulfilling the global expectations in organising either of these mega-events, then it would be our collective failure. Because, we are all part of such expectations, preparations, and failures. Much like the wars, where the common man suffers as much as the wagers.

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