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5 Ways Global Sporting Events Like Brazil's World Cup Wreck Lives and Exploit the Poor

Mega-sport tournaments: where fun and games mask violence and plunder.

Photo Credit: Filipe Frazao/


The 2014 World Cup is highlighting the dark side of mega sporting events: displacement of the poor, police violence and exploitation of workers.  

On June 12, FIFA’s crowning event, the World Cup for soccer, is set to open in Brazil. Widely anticipated around the world, the World Cup features 32 soccer teams from regions across the globe and attracts millions of spectators who gather in homes and bars to root for their nation to win.  

But the World Cup has become notorious for the corruption and excess that comes along with it, as sports journalist Dave Zirin wrote over the weekend in the New York Times. In response to the skyrocketing cost of the game and the bulldozing of favelas (slums) to build soccer stadiums, protests by thousands of people have highlighted the ire of Brazil’s populace toward the cup, even though soccer is the most popular sport in the country.

Brazil’s World Cup isn't the only event that exposes how global sporting tournaments wreak havoc on the most vulnerable people in the countries where the tournament takes place. This is a common facet of mega sporting events. Here are five ways the World Cup and other athletic affairs are best understood as sordid events where fun and games mask violence and plunder.

1.  Displacement of the poor. Rio de Janeiro will be one site of the World Cup and will also play host to the 2016 Olympics. The mayor of the city, Eduardo Paes, says the events mean the city must modernize. The cost of that modernization, though, is being felt in the poorest communities in this city and others, as bulldozers raze communities to spruce up the areas for the visitors streaming in to play and watch games.

At least 19,000 families have been evicted from favelas to make way for roads, newly refurbished stadiums, athletic villages and more in preparation for the World Cup and Olympics. And that’s only in Rio de Janeiro. Activists say 32,000 people are at risk of eviction in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and that 250,000 have been or are threatened with eviction across the country. Conditions for families only worsen after being evicted, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Housing, and compensation is scanty.

It was much the same story in South Africa in the runup to the 2010 World Cup, with thousands of people being evicted in Cape Town and forcibly removed to settlements of iron shacks. And in 2008, as China prepared to host the 2008 Olympics, an estimated 1.5 million people were removed from their homes.  

2.  Police violence. The Brazilian police have greeted protests over the cost of living, transportation prices and the investment in the World Cup with brutality.  

In February, a student was shot by the police during a confrontation over the World Cup. A report by Amnesty International documented how hundreds of people were detained and beaten, and that two journalists were shot in the eye with rubber bullets, during the recent wave of demonstrations in the country.  Brazilian police also tear gassed a crowd who sheltered in an emergency room. The government will deploy 157,000 troops and police to secure World Cup stadiums.  

3.  Worker mistreatment. FIFA wanted stadium construction for the World Cup to be completed by the end of 2012, in time for the 2013 Confederations Cup, another tournament that takes place in the runup to the bigger World Cup. In their zeal to complete the stadiums on time, workers’ rights were abused.

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