Less than a month ago we sat at the edge of our seats, anticipating whether it would be our team who would score the next goal. Now that our twitter feeds have moved on from the live World Cup updates, it becomes clear that the most important goal was missed.
The grand opening ceremony filled our TV screens with waves of colour, exotic costumes and smiling performers. With our eyes and ears glued to the spectacular show inside the stadium, we remained oblivious to the thousands of protesting Brazilians on the other side; their screams of outrage drowned out by the cheering crowds.
An estimated 250,000 people faced eviction to make way for World Cup stadiums across the 12 host cities, with little or no compensation given. Construction workers were badly paid and subjected to unsafe working conditions, resulting in eight worker deaths, while the increase of forced child prostitution to meet the demands of 3.5 million tourists became a growing concern as the event neared.
The media showed us Brazil in full celebration, eagerly anticipating the World Cup, yet we only saw glimpses of the suffering endured by vulnerable society members. We hardly heard from the 61% of citizens who thought the World Cup to be bad for Brazil because it took money away from schools, healthcare and other public services.
More than a million protestors filled the streets of São Paulo last year, fighting against poor public services and government corruption. The police responded with brutality and the government answered no questions, but managed sweep the mess under the rug in time for their international guests to arrive.
Now that the celebrations have finished and the sporting stars have packed up and gone home, the billion dollar stadiums stand empty as a bitter reminder of stolen homes and unanswered protests.
In a time when international business leaders had an opportunity to shine the spotlight on human rights violations being made on account of their arrival, they chose to turn a blind eye. As Budweiser is one of their major sponsors, FIFA forced the Brazilian government to change the drinking laws to allow fans to drink inside the stadiums, proving clear negotiating power when it came to policy making around the World Cup.
So why was this power not used to ensure that evicted families were offered compensation, construction workers were given fair conditions and pay and vulnerable community members were protected?
FIFA and its international sponsors, including Coca Cola, Sony and McDonalds, might have you believe that the business they brought to Brazil was enough to benefit the local community. But in reality, the millions of dollars brought by tourists went straight back to business owners and those who were already wealthy. A 2km exclusion zone was set up around stadiums ensuring that any local street vendor who wasn’t a paying “concessionary” couldn’t cash in on hungry and thirsty tourists.
More to the point, making a few extra dollars in a good month of business does not even begin to tackle the root causes of poverty and inequality in Brazil. The community does not need an increase of tourists; it needs quality education programs, healthcare and security. It needs powerful organizations with a media spotlight to show their commitment to human rights, by promoting prosperity in the communities that host their events.
If FIFA and other organizations want to leave a good legacy in poor-host countries, and gain further respect from the international community, they could consider donating a small percentage of their huge earnings to anti-poverty funds or human rights protection.
While it might not be at the core of their objectives to change the world for the better, everyone has a social responsibility to at least make their contribution a positive one. We leave a mark in all the places we travel to and in all the partnerships we make, and big organizations are not exempt.
With only two years to go until the Olympic games, again in Brazil, let’s hope more effort is made in ensuring that positive outcomes are not exclusive to competitors and punters. Let’s pay more attention to what is happening behind the scenes of the world stage and ensure that human rights are promoted, not violated.
Written By: Gabi Brand