Editorial: 2014 World Cup Unrest, Inequality Echoes South African Games

By Alexis Barnes AFKI Original Published: June 18, 2014, 12:14 pm

Although there were initial misgivings in hosting the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, business, pop-culture and national leaders campaigned to bring the competition to the newly emancipated country. The games were ultimately a success. Stadiums were completed on deadline and social unrest didn’t disrupt the tournament, but turmoil preceding and following the matches echo the current situation in South America.

Like all hallmark sporting events, financial output is mainly to blame for the unrest.

During the 34th anniversary of the Soweto uprising against apartheid, about 3,000 South Africans protested on June 16, 2010 against the “FIFA mafia,” and the millions spent despite millions of impoverished residents.

Protest organizer, Allan Murphy, told Mail & Guardian “If we have money for stadiums, we should not have any homeless people or people having to live in shacks.”

Crying Social Inequality

South African pride over hosting the World Cup — after a tumultuous recent history — made protests small scale in comparison to Brazil.

Protests began throughout Brazil and enclaves of the diaspora as the multibillion-dollar state investment in the new football stadiums left Brazilians crying social inequity and corruption.

What started as protests against increases in bus, train and metro ticket prices soon shifted to anger over high taxes not benefiting the poor, and a spending budget almost three times that of South Africa’s.

This time last year, Brazil rallies reaching into the millions overshadowed the FIFA Confederations Cup soccer tournament. Rubber bullets, tear gas and dogs kept protesters away.

While Brazilian construction companies barely made deadlines and 2014 World Cup costs ballooned from estimated millions to over $11 billion — schools, healthcare systems, welfare, hospitals and tech infrastructure remain poorly maintained and underfunded.

Football is Supposed to ‘Bring Hope’

FIFA boss, Sepp Blatter told Brazil’s O Globo newspaper that he is aware many Brazilians are unhappy, but that the games will bring an improvement to the nation’s infrastructure.

“Football is here to unite people. Football is here to build bridges, to generate excitement, to bring hope,” he said in an interview. “Brazil asked to host the World Cup. We didn’t force it on them. It’s obvious that stadiums need to be built but that isn’t the only thing in a World Cup: there are highways, hotels, airports and a lot of other items that remain as a legacy.”

Many Brazilian residents say these plans are short reaching. In a viral YouTube monologue, a woman named Carla Dauden disputes the political argument that the World Cup and Olympics improve the nation.

“We’ve been paying all these taxes for what? The truth is that most of the money that comes from the games and the stadiums goes straight to FIFA, and we don’t even see it.”

While Brazilian protesters currently shout “There Will Be No World Cup,” South Africans cried and chanted when they learned they would be hosting the world’s biggest sporting event in May 2004. Despite, high unemployment, an HIV/AIDs epidemic and poverty, country leaders like then-president Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela considered it an opportunity to showcase their country positively.

In Capetown’s Green Point Stadium, a plaque quotes former president Mbeki: “The World Cup will be remembered as a moment when Africa stood tall and resolutely turned the tide of centuries of poverty and conflict.”

The games did help the nation economically amidst a recession and upgraded transportation infrastructure, but like Brazil, responsibility weighed heavily on taxpayers.

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