World Cup 2014: Brazilians Who Want to Boycott the World Cup Should Let the Cup Change Brazil

Outraged by an increasingly sluggish economy and an inefficient and corrupt government, Brazilian citizens have taken to the streets to protest. Among the various complaints that the population is making, one relates to the over-spending in World Cup preparations, which is scheduled to take place in Brazil next year. The public is concerned that the money that was conjured up for World Cup developments could have instead been invested in education or public health, and been put to better use in general. A video has become the voice of a movement that calls for a boycott of the 2014 World Cup. The video has gained both national and international traction, and has been met with widespread support from the population.

Nevertheless, I am confident in arguing that most of the arguments put forth in this video are unfounded, and that there are better ways Brazil could make use of the World Cup, both economically and politically. To illustrate my point, let’s take a closer look at some of the claims the video makes.

First, the video states that the World Cup will cost $30 billion. This is false. The most current estimates calculate that the world cup will cost R$30 billion, which amounts to approximately $14.5 billion. It is still an astronomical amount by any measure, but the point is worth noting. Of this money, less than half (42%) will be sourced from public resources (namely, tax money). The rest of the money will come from the private sector.

Second, the video asks the question of whether “in a country where illiteracy can reach 21%, and averages 10%, a country that ranks 85 in the Human Development Index, and where 13 million people are underfed every day, and many others die waiting for medical treatment, does that country need more stadiums?” Although the question is well-intentioned, it completely ignores the return on investment that the World Cup will bring to Brazil. One study, made for the Ministry of Sport, calculates that the World Cup will generate R$183 billion for the country over the next decade, or six times the original investment. Another, more conservative estimate, calculated by Ernst & Young in partnership with the Fundação Getúlio Vargas, sets this value at R$142 billion. Notably, these values have a lot to do with indirect effects to the economy, through the creation of jobs and the short and long-term development of intertwined economic sectors (which are not gains of the sort that can be easily siphoned off by businesses and government). This is something the video does not take into consideration when it argues that the lives of the merchants in Brazil will only be affected for “one week.”

Third, the video criticizes a government statement that the World Cup was the incentive that Brazil needed in order to change, and asks, “What country needs an incentive to take care of its people?” I agree that it is tragic that Brazil needs an event such as the World Cup to motivate politicians to act more efficiently, but the argument that government doesn't need an incentive to take of its people is blind to the fundamental theoretical underpinnings of democratic governance. When democracies work, it is precisely because the government has an incentive to take care of its people. If they do not, then they risk being removed from power through the electoral process. In fact, the entire concept of democracy revolves around giving the government an incentive to take care of its people, because if it does not, then the people can vote them out of power. Essentially, democracy is the incentive.

Finally, the video questions the longevity and long-term results of the favela occupation efforts in Brazil, and mentions the displacement of peoples to build stadiums and other infrastructure for the World Cup. On the first count, I think there is not enough evidence to argue either way. Any argument is pure speculation, especially since the UPP effort is the first of its kind and scale (so far as I know). On the second, I am actually sympathetic to the video. Admittedly, I have not done extensive research in the matter, but if people are being inappropriately displaced by World Cup efforts, then this should be addressed. It is an issue that warrants more investigation on my part, and I admit I have no informed opinion on it yet.

In any case, the video calls for the boycotting of the World Cup by both Brazilians and foreigners. The way I see it, however, Brazilians should instead be calling for more people to attend the World Cup. They should use the media attention and the huge influx of people coming into the country as a medium to raise awareness of the issues that we Brazilians are facing. They should encourage those coming for the World Cup to visit not only the stadiums, but also the impoverished areas of the cities that have been hidden away by marketing. Sure, I can post a photo online of a favela and write a whole lot of commentary to go along with it, but experiencing firsthand the inequality in Brazil will raise awareness, and give foreigners a completely new perspective on the issues facing the country.

In the end, the World Cup is not the problem. The problem is the corrupt politicians. The problem is how the gains from the World Cup will be administered. We cannot forget that 2014 is not only the year of the World Cup, but also the year of Brazil’s presidential elections, which will occur just three months after the end of the tournament. This means that Brazilians will have the opportunity to elect a government that will put the economic resources generated by the World Cup to good use. By taking advantage of the electoral process, Brazilians can make sure that the World Cup generates positive results for the entire country, and not for a niche group of politicians and business. Moreover, instead of boycotting the World Cup, we should be using the spotlight the tournament will give to Brazil in creative ways to combat political corruption and business misconduct, and to make sure that the gains from this event are positively re-invested into society. If we manage to successfully do both these things, then the World Cup can come to have very tangible positive effects for Brazil. If that happens, maybe we can hope to win not only in the world of soccer next year, but also in the world of politics.