With World Cup 2014 at its peak, we would be remiss to omit mentioning the ugly business of “the beautiful game.” The truth is that The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing body of association football, futsal and beach soccer, has been embroiled in controversy for many years.
Perhaps the greatest complaint about FIFA is its failure at sustainability. When we think of sustainability, most of us consider natural systems, i.e., the environment, natural resources, energy, etc. Often, we ignore the key ingredient of sustainability, namely people or the human factor.
While there are numerous definitions and models of sustainability, a review of each finds that they all incorporate the following components :
- Living within the limits.
- Understanding the interconnections among economy, society and the environment.
- Equitable distribution of resources and opportunities.
A close look at information on FIFA’s activities and dealings with World Cup hosts clearly indicates the organization’s failure in all matters involving the core principles of sustainability.
FIFA ignores the hosts’ limits of standard of living.
For years, FIFA has led most host countries to believe that hosting the World Cup tournament would be a boon to that nation’s economy. In many cases, this simply has not been true. In fact, hosting the tournament has caused even greater problems than those that previously existed for some countries, both in terms of human and financial costs. First of all, many ordinary citizens have found their livelihood and way of life permanently disrupted simply to make way for the competition. This is particularly true in Brazil, a very poor country, which has struggled to meet the World Cup host requirements for the past seven years. Much of the venue and road construction has come at a burdensome cost to the citizens of Brazil. Many of the transportation projects, such as the planned bullet train (scheduled to be the first of its kind in Latin America) never cleared the drawing board.
FIFA required the construction of several stadiums for the World Cup games. In all, three stadiums failed to be completed before the one-month countdown to the opening of the games.
Public protests of the games are rampant in Brazil. In the early period leading to the World Cup, these protests were peaceful and mostly concerned with issues such as bus fares, healthcare, evictions and corruption. However, the FIFA events have fueled these protests to the point of violence as workers have died during road and venue construction and people have been displaced from their homes to make room for site events. The protests now have been fueled by Brazil’s thrashing at the hands of Germany by a score of 7 to 1, the country’s first loss by so many goals since being defeated by Uruguay in 1920 in the Copa America. Also, the defeat by Germany is their first home loss in 64 competitive matches dating back to 1975.
Understanding the interconnections among economy, society and the environment
FIFA World Cup is the largest individual sporting competition on the globe and as such affords the organization the unique opportunity of a world stage to promote and influence sustainable practices by host nations. FIFA clearly has fallen short of influencing or promoting sustainability. At the outset of Brazil’s project planning, the consensus was that [its] “economy was not strong enough to absorb the cost of the World Cup.” As stated above, the disruption of livelihoods of Brazilian citizens to build the venues and infrastructure for the tournament has proven devastating to the people. The construction of the stadium in Manaus in the rainforest was particularly overwhelming in terms of logistics. Construction was extremely difficult, hampered by adverse weather conditions, as well as delivery of supplies. Thirdly, this area usually does not attract large crowds to soccer matches, thereby making the functionality of the arena questionable after the World Cup is over.
Another interesting development with FIFA and the 2014 World Cup was the beer sales controversy. The sale of beer at soccer matches in Brazil has been banned since 2003 in an effort to curb the violence among rival fans and hooliganism witnessed at games. This move was taken solely in the interest of keeping people safe. However, FIFA insisted and prevailed in its requirement that beer sales be allowed at its games. Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s General Secretary emphatically stated, that “alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we’re going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant but that’s something we won’t negotiate.” Clearly, FIFA chose to ignore a major social issue in Brazil.
Equitable distribution of resources and opportunities
The Brazilian citizens are literally seething over the cost of mega events to their country at the expense of their needs. First they had to endure displacement and infrastructure changes to host Pope Francis and the Confederations Cup. Next came the World Cup, and soon to follow is the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, which will be an even larger event as it is represented by more than 200 countries and approximately 10,500 participants. According to a report in Sports Business Journal, the World Cup will cost between $15 billion to $20 billion. With FIFA retaining all revenues from television rights, tickets, corporate sponsorships and marketing, Brazil stands to net approximately $500 million dollars. Also, it is important to note that FIFA is a nonprofit organization, exempt from paying taxes on its revenues.
The ever elusive equalizer
We salute Brazil for its efforts in hosting global mega events, such as the World Cup, and we admire their commitment to seek solutions to its economic problems. However, we feel that it is important that FIFA maintain transparency in its commitment to sustainability and to be fair and objective in its dealings with potential World Cup hosts. Here in the United States or in many European countries, events such as the World Cup do not create sink or swim consequences. These economies have sufficiently stable infrastructure and venues to host multinational gatherings. That being said, these countries often recognize the burdens of such events and opt out on the bidding. For very poor countries, such as Brazil, serving as hosts for Cup events seemingly has become an ever elusive equalizer, both on and off the field.
Perhaps the overwhelming sadness, tears and sobs of the Brazilian fans as witnessed by the world in their team’s loss to Germany was more than just a response to the World Cup game. Maybe it also was deep sorrow upon the realization that the dream of an improved economy, more jobs and better living conditions will not materialize as predicted by FIFA.