TODAY IS kick-off of the 20th Fifa World Cup, an international men only football tournament that is scheduled to take place in Brazil from June 12 to July 13.
This prominent tournament, arguably the world’s most popular sporting event, will bring together 32 national teams from all five confederations around the world to compete for a golden trophy and a total of $576 million in prize money, with the winning team taking home $35 million.
Africa will be represented by Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria respectively.
So, why are some sections of Brazilians rioting and threatening to disrupt this wonderful experience which attracts religiously the attention of over a billion people the world over?
To explain – there has been growing public anger especially over wasteful spending on hosting the tournament.
Polls indicate that most Brazilians believe that the government has committed far too much public resources to the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero in order to please the international community, at the expense of most public services such as transport, healthcare, security, housing, among others, which have remained poorly managed and underfunded.
In fact, last year’s riots in Brazil were sparked off by the Brazilian government’s attempts to increase public transport prices in Sao Paolo by nine cents in single bus fares.
Protests there escalated into a nationwide unrest gripping the World Cup host cities such as Rio de Janiero, Brasilia and many others.
To clarify further, at the heart of the matter is a common theme: social inequality. Despite Brazil being the world’s sixth largest economy, it is also ranked as the fourth most unequal country in Latin America.
The richest 1 percent (about 2 million people) own an estimated 13 percent of the nation’s wealth, about the same as the poorest 50 percent (80 million people).
Equally, most Brazilians are tired of the corruption culture that has masked public management of funds, a lack of a return on taxes that ordinary citizens contribute, and more importantly, the government’s inadequate expenditure on basic infrastructure, healthcare and education.
This is in stark contrast to the $14 billion of state investment on the 2014 Fifa World Cup alone.
Citizens should be priority
I often find it peculiar that in today’s world several governments are wasteful by using public funds to explore adventures that are out of reach and often contribute little to an ordinary citizen’s standards of living.
In my opinion, such ambitions as hosting the World Cup and the Olympics should be vigorously assessed on the basis of their ability to improve the lives of the entire population, and only be endorsed on condition that basic services for ordinary citizens can be fully met in the first place.
It is depleting to think that a country’s international status should take precedence over the opportunity to send millions of young children to school, build hospitals for scores of low income groups, and provide decent accommodation for millions of low income groups.
Where does Brazil go from here?
Social inequality is not uniquely Brazilian. It is a persistent yet needless state of play which has gripped societies across Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
Social inequality has led to extreme poverty in many societies and has resulted in some citizens seeing themselves as second class citizens.
Whether the Samba boys go on to win the 2014 World Cup or not, the long-term success of the tournament will be decided by whether the newly constructed roads, accommodation, public transport links, public spaces, can all benefit the local population.
Also, it is important that the Brazilian government redistributes income generated from hosting the tournament by increasing public expenditure for schools, hospitals and social housing.
In any event, this tournament is likely to put Brazil under a microscope and it is therefore up to President Dilma Rousseff’s government to ensure that the benefits of the 2014 Fifa World Cup trickle down to the lower classes of society whereby ordinary Brazilians can afford to send their children to decent schools, access healthcare, live in decent homes and contemplate the thought that favelas will one day cease to compete with the statue of Christ the Redeemer as Rio de Janiero’s most recognised landmark.
If not, President Rousseff will have brought the World Cup to Brazil for the second time in the country’s history but the World Cup could cost her the October 2014 presidential election.
The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Service Policy.