Brazil's 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games Might Be Complete Disasters

While Brazilian officials involved in the construction and renovation of the many structures needed for the World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2016 assure the media that the projects will all be finished in time for the world-famous sporting events, the recent protests throughout the country have led observers to question whether the country will be ready for the spotlight. Perhaps more importantly, many are asking whether the construction boom will actually help this country which currently lacks adequate infrastructure, from schools to roads to policing and governance.

The protests began a few weeks ago in response to a fare hike in the public bus system, but over the past few weeks they have morphed into more general objections against what many see as a corrupt system and a misappropriation of funds.

The progress is slow on many of the projects that just a few years ago the Brazilian government had promised would be finished in time for the World Cup. For example, of the 31 airports in the country that are supposed to see renovations for the influx of travelers in just one year, work has only begun at 18. This slow pace is true of a huge number of the infrastructure and renovation projects that the government had promised to finish with the help of private investments. When the total bill is over $31 billion — and that includes only public expenditures — it is no wonder that Brazil has seen protests that question the use of the money.

The balance of whether or not host countries benefit from world renowned sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics is an interesting one. On the one hand, it is undeniable that the events bring in thousands of tourists to the host country who must spend big money on food, accommodation, and transport and that millions of people watch the sports on television which can reel in advertisement dollars as well.

On the other hand, most host countries still come up with a huge loss. Often the money that they spend building stadiums, an Olympic Village, and more are not necessarily useful to the permanent residents after the athletes have left. Even television revenues, most of which in fact go to the organizing bodies rather than to the host country, cannot come close to paying back the money the host country will spend. Even the historical legacy and media spotlight cannot make up for the dollar loss.

"It is showing that major sporting events have reached a point where you need to re-discuss what is being done and what is really a legacy," said Sylvia Schenk, senior adviser for sport at anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.

Take South Africa for example: In one case, the new Cape Town Stadium, the government spent a huge amount of money to completely renovate an otherwise functioning stadium in order to make it look modern and have a better view over the ocean for the television cameras. According to University of Michigan sports economist Stefan Szymanski, almost none of the money went to the supporting infrastructure such as roads to get to the stadium, which made the new stadium close to useless once the World Cup ended.

In spite of these arguably misappropriated uses for public money, it is the underlying structural problems in the country that threaten the Brazil Olympics in three years. The protests may have hit a recent calm, at least in comparison to their original fervor, but the problems that Brazilians see every day will not disappear quickly. If the government continues to spend money on fancy new construction projects and fails to update international airports or build adequate roads — structures that will directly benefit the Brazilian people in the coming decades — these protests will likely come back in full swing to compete with the athletes for attention on national television.