World Cup leaves Brazil bruised but the worst is yet to come

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FIFA brought a close to their 20th World Cup tournament on July 13. For football fans across the globe, it was the end of a month-long festival of world-class football. For Brazil's 200 million inhabitants, it was time to start thinking about the consequences of hosting the event.

Brazil's ability to host the World Cup has long been under scrutiny. Infamous delays, deaths during construction, and spiralling costs caused upheaval on the streets of major cities.

According to the CIA,  over 21 per cent of people in Brazil are still living below the poverty line with 10 per cent struggling to live on less than $2 a day. Clearly Brazil have social issues that urgently need addressing. The economy is slowing, the population is booming yet the government still committed $12 billion to bring FIFA to South America.

Considering that bill equates to 61% of the country's annual education budget, something is not right. But Brazil is threatening to be just one of many countries to suffer from hosting the World Cup.

White African elephants

Of all the factors that have brought controversy to Brazil, few have done more to damage the country's reputation than the Arena Amazônia in Manaus. Home to just four World Cup games, the 44,000-seater stadium was built from the ground up at a cost of $300 million.

Now the tournament is over there is some confusion over what is going to happen to the stadium. Manaus, a city lying deep within the Amazon, has little to no interest in football. In fact the only team, Nacional FC, barely attract 1,000 people to their league games.

FIFA demand a minimum of eight stadiums from World Cup hosts, but Brazil decided to build and renovate 12 at a cost of $4 billion - 80 per cent of which was taken from the taxpayer. Along with the Arena Pantanal in Cuiaba, the Arena das Dunas in Natal and the National Stadium in Brasilia, Arena Amazônia stands silently as politicians try to figure out what to do with the now-redundant infrastructure.

If you want a hint at what may become of these four white elephants you need only look back to the last World Cup host, South Africa, who had hopes that the tournament would help reform the country's reputation.

Now the euphoria of a 30-day festival is well and truly gone, only bitterness remains for the majority. Six world-class stadiums were built for the 2010 World Cup.

Four years on and the country is still struggling with gaping inequality, devastating poverty and social struggle while arenas in Durban, Cape Town and Nelspruit continue to cost the government millions in maintenance costs every year.

None of them are attracting regular events and campaigners are growing louder in their calls to have them destroyed altogether.

"A World Cup could be held at much less expense if Fifa looked at a society's needs and did not fetishise luxury," Patrick Bond, director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal centre for civil society, told the Guardian in 2013.

"The tournament gave South Africa a dizzy high, but the hangover, the inequality we have here and social unrest over economic problems, is brutal."

Similar to Brazil, an estimated 20 per cent are still living below the poverty line while the high speed trains and motorways built as part of the World Cup project are only benefiting the elite. For the majority of the population, the World Cup has done nothing but stall their hopeful ascent to a decent living standard.

Future hosts

Brazil will struggle to stop themselves from falling into a similar trap. But they and South Africa won't be the only World Cup hosts struggling with white elephants once FIFA have packed up and left with $4.5 billion in their pockets.

Future host Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) are both preparing for the tournament's arrival, sinking billions of dollars into stadia and other tournament-only infrastructure.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is planning to spend $20 billion – a figure critics believe will rise – on hosting World Cup 2018, which comes shortly after the government sunk $51 billion into hosting the Sochi Winter Games; the most expensive Olympics (summer and winter) ever. To put Putin's $20 billion budget in perspective, the original budget for Sochi was just $12 billion.

The Sochi Games, although too soon to truly evaluate, is already being labelled as an economic disaster by some critics. The majority of that cost went towards rebuilding a derelict and rundown city. Subway systems and airports built for the Games will not benefit the 15 million Russians who are still struggling to put food on their table.

Critics are beginning to argue that spiralling costs, coupled with Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis could leave Russia facing bankruptcy by the end of the tournament.

Russia, like Brazil, have opted to use 12 stadiums for the tournament although Sepp Blatter has recently hinted it could be reduced to 10. Those original plans involve the construction of nine completely new stadiums across 1,500 miles of Russian land and 11 different cities.

Like Brazil, unrest is also high amongst the masses in Russia. The national stock market is down by 20% from the start of the year while the Rouble has fallen 8 per cent on the US Dollar. As Putin plans to put public money into another widely unnecessary tournament, a weakening economy will struggle to take the strain and disparity and unrest will grow further.

Russia is unlikely to hold the title for the most controversial World Cup for long, however. Four years later the tournament will travel to the desert where Qatar plan to welcome the tournament to the Middle East for the first time.

Bribery allegations and 120 degree heat aside, Qatar is already proving to be an own goal for FIFA.

The project is nothing short of huge. $34 billion on a rail and metro system, $7 billion on a port, $17 billion on an airport and $4 billion on stadiums; costs are expected to run somewhere close to $200 billion - that's a staggering $100,000 for every person who lives in the bitesize Gulf state.

The stadiums will all be built within a 25km radius of each other and will be virtually useless afterwards. Qatar, with no history of football culture, has never qualified for a World Cup and interest is low. The highest attendance at a Qatar league match since the turn of the decade is 8,215.

What is clear about the Qatari bid is that it will be the most expendable ever. There is no impetus on legacy, just consumption. The 2 million population will have limited use for the stadiums or the associated transport systems once the tournament is over.

Human & environmental costs

But with the third highest gas and oil reserves in the world, no one is worried about Qatar's economic future, at least in the short term. What worries most critics is the sheer human and environmental costs.

The International Trade Union Confederation reported that around 1,200 migrant construction workers have already died since the country was awarded the tournament. It expects over 4,000 to have perished directly from building World Cup infrastructure by the time the tournament begins in 2022. That in itself is enough to halt construction, at least until serious changes can be made to health and safety standards throughout the country.

From an environmental perspective, Qatar also gets a red card. The infrastructure required just for the tournament will, in itself, run into the millions of tonnes in terms of carbon emissions. When the world is supposed to be dramatically reducing its carbon footprint, FIFA has shown nothing but recklessness by awarding the tournament to an undeveloped state ahead of nations capable of hosting the event tomorrow including USA, Japan and Australia.

Football ruining futures

For a man trying to win a Nobel Peace Prize, Blatter, the president of FIFA, has failed to use his power to provide better futures for the world's underprivileged.

Hosting a World Cup is supposed to deliver a lasting feel-good factor as well as provide a fantastic shop window to the Western world and an economic boost. For South Africa this simply has not happened. Brazil is likely to follow suit.

In some ways, Brazil's lacklustre performance sums up the tournament for the country. It was supposed to be brilliant. Football was returning to its spiritual home. It should have been a dream come true, but it has turned into a nightmare not just on the pitch but off of it as well.

Brazil's population is not happy but more unrest is due. Countries with undeveloped sporting passions will try their best to host the event without upsetting the masses. Their economies will suffer and the people bearing the brunt of the cost will be those who can least afford to. Meanwhile developed countries are being denied the chance to hold economically viable versions.

Starting in Africa in 2010 and ending in the Middle East in 2022, the World Cup will go from country to country, entertaining and enthralling the world for a total of four months, but leaving a lasting scar on the countries foolish enough to host it.

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