US midfielder Jermaine Jones plays the ball during the match against Germany at the Pernambuco Arena in Recife during the FIFA World Cup on June 26, 2014
July 2, 2014
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Soccer (or football, as the rest of the world refers to it) is the most popular sport globally. But can you love the game while hating the World Cup?
The 2014 World Cup tournament in Brazil has attracted record numbers of American viewers, with reports of 23 million people having tuned in to a single match between the U.S. and Portugal alone. Worldwide, the numbers are expected to be even more staggering over the course of the entire tournament, given that half the planet tuned in to the last World Cup in 2010.
Still, I refuse to watch, and here’s why:
1. It is a corporate feeding frenzy.
It is precisely because of the lucrative access to billions of eyeballs that the World Cup has evolved into a glorified delivery system of advertising from some of the world’s biggest corporations such as Coca-Cola, Visa, Budweiser, Microsoft, Volkswagen, Adidas, Marriott and Johnson & Johnson. FIFA (The Fédération Internationale de Football Association), the main governing body that organizes the World Cup, has come under intense scrutiny for its controversial, high-stakes approach to the multibillion-dollar business of soccer. This year’s World Cup is expected to generate a whopping $4 billion in revenue, with the majority coming from marketing and TV rights. That is 66 percent more than the last World Cup.
Advertisers are frothing at the mouth over the World Cup having “the power to be the most talked about subject in social media, ever,” according to a Johnson & Johnson representative. As one Coca-Cola executive told The New York Times, plans for advertising began three years ago, because of “the opportunity it offers” in that “the World Cup is the world’s biggest sporting event.” Coke is attempting to equate its sugary, diabetes-inducing drink with soccer, because apparently, “Coke is everyone’s drink, and football is everyone’s sport.”
Even the players themselves are living, breathing vehicles for delivering advertisements, with one sports magazine ranking Brazilian player Neymar, as the most “marketable” athelete in the world. Marriott has signed deals with players Omar Gonzalez and Alexi Lalas, branding them as “Defenders of Travel.”
2. It is ridiculously expensive, has worsened poverty, fostered mass displacement and resulted in the deaths of workers.
Like most other major international sporting events, the World Cup comes with a set of financial infrastructure demands that displace people and turn government priorities upside down, all in the service of the international Sports Industrial Complex.
Nowhere has this been more evident than in host Brazil, where protests in the run-up to the games had “become an almost daily occurrence,” The Guardian reported last June when more than a million Brazilians demonstrated in 80 cities. A massive subway strike in the metropolis of Sao Paolo threatened to bring all transportation to a standstill. The Guardian added: “Many protesters are furious that the government is spending 31bn reals [more than $15 billion USD] to set the stage for a one-time global tournament, while it has failed to address everyday problems closer to home.”
Additionally, hundreds of thousands of poor Brazilians have been driven out of their homesin the favelas in the name of the World Cup. And a total of nine workers have died in Brazil over the course of the stadium-building frenzy to satisfy FIFA’s conditions.
Meanwhile, plans are underway for the 2022 World Cup tournament, which is to be held in the Gulf Arab state of Qatar. Qatar’s construction labor force consists of hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from primarily South Asian countries. Given how many hundreds of workers routinely die each year while laboring on construction sites in Qatar, one investigation estimates that 4,000 workers may die from FIFA stadium construction alone. Fittingly, The Nation magazine’s Dave Zirin, in a new book and in ongoing reports on the 2014 World Cup, has maintained that the World Cup has turned into “a tool for neoliberal plunder.”