I can't wait for the World Cup next year. I've been wanting to go ever since it was announced. Brazil is futbol crazy. It's a country of passion, beauty and flamboyance. It carries a mystique that enchants the rest of the world. Its soccer dominance over the past 70 years has been unparalleled. In many ways, it is the perfect host.
And yet, Brazil should never have been awarded the opportunity to host the World Cup in 2014.
Ever since Athens hosted the Olympic games, FIFA and the International Olympic Committee have been fixated on pushing the boundaries, choosing the most exotic locations, and increasing their worldwide brand. All the while they have pocketed huge licensing fees, and ruthlessly protected and profited from their business interests while the host countries see a fraction of the revenue.
In theory, such global expansion is a great idea. Considering the worldwide appeal and participation in such tournaments, there is no reason the Games nor the World Cup should be Euro-centric. Countries outside the Western World absolutely deserve the chance to have their one shining moment. In theory.
Unfortunately, the reality is that today's World Cups and Olympic Games are such mammoth undertakings with so much money at stake that the benefits of the games — the prestige, the increased tourism, the legacy — are no longer equal to the costs. With FIFA and the IOC furtively pressuring cities to out-duel their predecessors with even more outlandish stadiums, the price the host country must shoulder can be debilitating.
Take Athens for example. Back in the late 1990s, Greece was an emerging economy set to join the Euro. Tourism was thriving and life was good. As a reward, Athens was selected to host the Olympics as a sort of a proof of an Olympic revival and coming-out party mixed into one.
The initial budget for the games was a hefty 6 billion dollars. By the time the torch was lit, the games were $5 billion over budget (almost double the projected costs). In the years following, the estimated losses were a staggering $15 billion dollars. The once-gleaming buildings filled with adoring fans? As many as 21 of 22 now sit dormant, crumbling along with Greece's economy.
South Africa too, another emerging but fragile economy, is feeling the pain from hosting the games. The 2010 host nation recovered just $500 Million of the nearly 4.6 Billion it spent to host the games. 150,000 fewer tourists than the projected 400,000 visited, hurting tourism revenue.
As both country's economies languish, it is now Brazil's turn to host the games. And as expected, Brazil is already way over budget building stadiums that will buzz for two weeks and then serve as a hollow reminder to how out-of-control the games have become. FIFA is set to pocket close to $4 Billion dollars. Brazil? If they recoup a quarter of that, officials will party like it's carnival.
Brazilians are taking to the streets by the tens of thousands to voice their displeasure at the corruption and cost of the games. Signs ranging from "If your child is sick, take him to the nearest stadium" and "Lower the bus fare and send FIFA the bill," hit at the point that even in soccer-crazy Brazil, the people have had enough.
The protests should come as a warning to FIFA and the IOC. Awarding the games to still- developing countries that don't have the proper infrastructure or know-how to run such a big event, have high levels of unemployment and poverty, or whose governments are known for corruption is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous.
With FIFA and the IOC considering the likes of Azerbaijan, Morocco, and Madrid, FIFA and the IOC should carefully consider protests currently rocking Rio and São Paolo. Brazil will probably overcome them to throw a beautiful games, but if FIFA and the IOC continue their quest for the exotic, the next host country may not be so lucky.