FIFA in Brazil: Ugly Exploitation Undermines Beautiful Football

Somak Roychoudhury

“The history of football is a sad voyage from beauty to duty”

Uruguayan writer and football chronicler Eduardo Galeano’s famous lines were reflected in the turbulent protests and popular discontent that hit the streets of various cities of Brazil prior to FIFA World Cup. While Brazil was announced as the host of this edition uncontested, seven years back in 2007, people around the planet whose passion revolves round the beautiful game were elated, as the land of “beautiful football” which produced the greatest artists of the game was given a nod for the second time after 64 long years. Brazil was not only announced as the host, but also huge promises were made that this World Cup would revive her emerging economy, and a respectable living for the toiling masses, the section that forms the base and the pillars of football-culture of the Latin American nation. A huge investment was promised that would create millions of job-opportunities to boost the GDP of the nation. Seven years down the line, people of the cities from Sao-Paulo to Porto Alegre, Rio to Manaus re-decorated for hosting the matches were on the streets, after bearing the brunt of severe taxation, unfulfilled promises, ruthless evictions, child-sexual abuse ‘tourism’, deterioration of emergency services, and under-payment for work in construction projects.

The history of soccer is a sad voyage from beauty to duty. When the sport became an industry, the beauty that blossoms from the joy of play got torn out by its very roots. In this fin-de-siècle world, professional soccer condemns all that is useless, and useless means not profitable. Nobody earns a thing from that crazy feeling that for a moment turns a man into a child playing with a balloon, like a cat with a ball of yarn; a ballet dancer who romps with a ball as light as a balloon or a ball of yarn, playing without even knowing he’s playing, with no purpose or clock or referee. Play has become spectacle, with few protagonists and many spectators, soccer for watching. And that spectacle has become one of the most profitable businesses in the world, organized not for play but to impede it. The technocracy of professional sport has managed to impose a soccer of lightning speed and brute strength, a soccer that negates joy, kills fantasy and outlaws daring. Luckily on the field you can still see, even if only once in a long while, some insolent rascal who sets aside the script and commits the blunder of dribbling past the entire opposing side, the referee and the crowds in the stands, all for the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom.

-Eduardo Galeano, Soccer in Sun and Shadow


Football is called “Joga-Bonito”, which means ‘beautiful game’ in Portuguese, and Brazilians believe they alone can produce this beauty. The pride and honour of producing it to entertain the world and to achieve the glory of five-time World Champions is deep-rooted in the hearts of generations of Brazilians. The spontaneous poetry of Brazilian football – distinct from the European game – gave birth to icons like Pele-Garrincha-Tostao-Didi-Vava-Rivellino-Socrates-Zico-Romerio-Ronaldo-Ronaldinho… the list could go on.
But this time, despite being the host of the greatest spectator show of football, the song, “Desculpe, Neymar” (Sorry, Neymar), written by famous Brazilian musician, Edu Krieger, has been a hit amongst the street-protestors and on the internet. The song addresses and apologizes to the latest sensation of Brazilian football, Neymar, and his fellow team-mates for not being able to cheer the event and the national side characteristically, citing the unresolved pain and misery of the people and the additional burden imposed on them by the mega-event. The spirit of revolt has stimulated such culture and creativity, in sharp contrast to the official title song produced by FIFA’S organizing committee. The lyrics of ‘Desculpe, Neymar’ goes: “We can’t be real champions. We have beautiful and monumental stadiums, as our schools and hospitals are on the verge of collapse...” Surely Neymar and company, who donned the traditional golden and green shirts in the opener at the historic Maracanã at Rio, felt the pain of the protest banners as much as the warmth of the supporters. Brazil has the legacy of stars like late ex-skipper Socrates, who while playing at Corinthians in 1980, stood up firmly in favor of democracy to protest against the military Junta and its totalitarian control over the clubs and the game.

Open Admission of Loot

Ricardo Teixeira, the then president of the Brazilian Football-Federation, had in 2007 made bold promises of a slew of developmental projects the World Cup was supposed to bring in, that would not only benefit the sporting world, but transform the entire socio-economic condition of the nation. Pay-hikes, well-conceived investments, proper-employment projects, and a drastic improvement of social-services were promised. 2 years ago, Teixeira and his former father-in-law ex-FIFA President Joao Havelange were accused in a Swiss prosecutor’s report of receiving bribes of more than $41 million for distribution of marketing rights of the FIFA World Cup!
Economic analysts point out that the whopping $11 billion budget, if spent on education, could have brought 37 lakh children(aged between 4-17 years), who are drop-outs currently, back to school with proper infrastructure. But Joana Havelange, daughter of Teixeira and granddaughter of Havelange, and President of the World Cup Organizing Committee, added fuel to fire by telling protestors that there’s no point calling for any of the $11 billion budget to be redirected to health and education, since “What’s been spent, what’s been robbed, has already happened…If it was necessary to protest then people should have done so beforehand.”

Corporate Exploitation

Most of the protests and demonstrations are directed against the FIFA and the present Dilma Rousseff government of Brazil. But, behind the curtain, there is a nexus of global corporate giants. In addition to $22.46 billion spent by Brazil, a total of $142.39 billion was expected to flow in the country from 2010 to 2014, generating 3.43 million jobs per year and $63.48 billion income for the population, with a significant impact on the domestic consumer market. This production was expected to generate $18.3 taxes for local, state and federal governments. The sectors expected to have benefited from the World Cup were construction, food and beverages, information services, sanitation, and transport. But a few days ahead of the tournament, the country reflected a different reality. A huge strike among the metro railway workers at Sao-Paulo for a pay-hike continued for five days reveals under-employment in the World Cup projects. Taxation on common people has sky-rocketed, but essential services deteriorated drastically. The burden of expenditure is imposed on the provincial governments and the central banks like Caxia-Economica-Federal, BNDES, and BNB. Hi-tech stadiums have needlessly come up at Brasilia, Manaus, and Natal, where no premier division league matches take place, while schools and hospitals lack funds! Gabriel, a young and enthusiastic security officer of a shopping complex at Sao-Paulo, and a football lover said “I don’t have money to buy tickets of any game. The World Cup has only helped some people, construction-companies and corrupt legislators to fill their inside pockets”. Angry and agitated, Gabriel belongs to that section of the masses who have been forced to forfeit their love for the beautiful game and are up against this massive corruption.
For the last few decades the global market of sports have been dominated by Nike, Reebok, Puma and Adidas. These four corporate giants combined, are title sponsors of almost 30 out of the 32 teams participating in the tournament consistently for the last few editions from France’98 and their contradictions are governing the sporting event. Among these Adidas is the official sponsor of the Tournament, and milking it with aggressive sales-targets of $1.2 billion this year. Globally football sales have astronomically risen from $40 million globally during 94’ USA World Cup to $1.5 billion in the current season. Most of the production units of these corporate houses are located in India, Pakistan, Thailand and China. Not a single penny is being spent on the football infrastructure of these nations, and except China in the 2002 World-Cup, none of the other three Asian nations have even tasted the blood of the event. The Indian government withdrew from the last edition of Brazil World Cup way back in 1950 citing its lack of foreign reserves.
The majority of the people employed in the production-units are manual labourers, mostly women and children in meagre daily wages, except in China, where production is done with machines and workers get a slightly higher rate.
The Dilma Rouseff government will surely feel the heat, as its prospects of getting re-elected in the coming months, are dim. The current ruling PSOL was born out of Lula’s Worker’s Party in 2004, after the betrayals of the latter alienated trade unions and left supporters. 10 years down the line, Dilma, an ex-anarchist, is facing the same ire, after embracing the same neo-liberal policies. The people of Brazil deserve admiration, for spiritedly taking on the plunder and exploitation and forcing the world to acknowledge it.