Monday, June 9, 2014

RAINING ON THE WORLD CUP PARADE



I can’t wait for the World Cup to kick off.

The World Cup is without a doubt the biggest entertainment spectacle on the planet.  FIFA, the sport’s governing body estimates that 3.2 billion people watched the last edition in 2010. And of course with all these eyeballs comes money.

In 2010 South Africa spent about $4b – sh10 trillion or about the whole Ugandan annual budget, to prepare for the soccer bonanza.

Brazil it is estimated has already spent about $11b in preparing for the hosting of only their second world cup in 60 years.

Brazil have projected to earn more -- $11b with some $2.6b coming from the expected 600,000 tourists and $7.9b coming from the three million Brazilians who will be at the games.

And these mind bending figures are at the heart of the incessant protests that have plagued the South American nation in recent days.

It is the classic case of the politicians and statistics saying one thing about a country while the truth on the ground reflects a bleaker reality.

The protestors are outraged that their country can commit such vast sums to the World Cup while poverty and inequality are rampant in the general Brazilian society.

While Brazil may be considered a middle income country with its $10,773 GDP per capita, statistics also show that the country has some of the highest economic unequal societies in the world.
Gini coefficient, which measures economic equality, for Brazil is 0.52 – the nearer this figure is to 1 the more inequality exists in a society. The same figure for Uganda is 0.44. 

Brazil is a “democracy” so one wonders how come Brasilia can be so oblivious to the outcry of the people opting for an event, which is more an aggrandisement project for the powers that be with little benefit to the general society relative to the amounts spent to host this circus?

In fact there is no evidence that any World Cup has met the vaunted expectations that justified its hosting. In South Africa it is estimated the country could have netted $500 million, which is probably overstated as they are now saddled with unviable sporting arenas around the country that are costing local councils millions to manage with no hope of return.

But as always not everyone loses out.

After the last World Cup FIFA banked a $631m surplus to their reserves which doubled to $1.2b. You can expect there are contracting firms still living off the fat of the lucrative infrastructure and business deals. It’s the same old story of a small minority deriving incalculable benefit from these kind of events and living it to the majority – the taxpayers, to foot the bill.

Beyond the thrill of having the superstars of the world game planting their feet on their home soil it is hard to see how hosting a World Cup would sell in a national referendum.

Obviously such public spectacle also play a role in diverting public attention from the real issues while lining the pockets of the connected individuals and companies.

And they have been very successful. Chances are when the world Cup kicks off the protestors will leave the picket lines and tune in to the action.

There are precedents for these kind of tactics by the powers of the day. In ancient Rome as the empire’s begun to totter on its foundations ever spectacular events were organised for the general public to enjoy. The Coliseum completed in the first century after Christ was born could accommodate 50,000 people --- Namboole can barely manage 40,000, to view orgies of increasingly gratuitous bloodletting and mythical fantasy to divert the people’s minds from their diminishing welfare, while the powerful elite continued to enjoy lives of pomp and plenty.

The World Cup incidentally becomes more and more spectacular for the viewing public and more profitable for the people who hold the purse strings.

Chances are this analysis will not dampen the fervour for the event. We will suspend disbelief (me too) and enjoy the skill and performance of current heros and maybe, just maybe, get back to the issues a month from now.  Sad but true!

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