The true cost of football

The most talked about event of June will either have you cheering or groaning. The Fifa World Cup has started in Brazil and whether you’re an avid football fan, or couldn’t care less, Fifa fever has a month long prognosis.

During the month of the Fifa tournament I’ll be blogging about the issues surrounding the world cup, homelessness and poverty.

For many people the amount spent on the world cup has been contentious. Before the tournament began an estimated 10,000 Brazilians, activists from the Homeless Workers Movement, protested the high cost of the tournament outside the Corinthians stadium in Sao Paulo. This demonstration came after last year over a million people marched through the streets of major Brazilian cities, objecting to excessive spending on the World Cup and the 2016 Rio olympics.

It has been estimated that the 2014 world tournament will cost the Brazilian government 14 billion US dollars, making it the most expensive world cup to date. This will cover the cost of building and refurbishing stadiums, improving infrastructure, and maximising security for the event. The failure to complete many of the proposed works that contribute to these costs have provoked discontent amongst Brazilians. Many feel that the staggering cost of staging the tournament could be better used to fund hospitals and schools, or tackle the problems caused by widespread poverty.

The Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has defended the cost of the tournament, arguing that investments in airport terminals, stadia and other infrastructure would benefit Brazil in the long term. But while organisers originally estimated the cost of stadium works would be 1.1 billion dollars, it has increased to 3.6 billion. Sergio Nogueira Seabra, secretary for transparency and prevention of corruption in Brazil’s controller general’s office, says that corruption is partly to blame.

Since the beginning of the tournament, the protests have become violent. Police threw tear gas grenades and sound bombs into the crowd of protesters, who responded by throwing stones at the police and setting fire to rubbish. Support for the World Cup seems to have reached an all time low.

This raises the question of whether spending 14 billion dollars on a football tournament, when there is a widespread need for housing, welfare and public services, is justifiable. There’s nothing wrong with the Fifa World Cup per se, but it makes me uneasy that so much money is being spent on that when it could be used to help people who are living on the streets or struggling to get by.

However, football can be a force for positive social change and even be used to combat the misconceptions of homelessness. The subject of my next World Cup blogpost will be the Street Child World Cup, which uses football to promote the rights of children living on the streets.

Alex Charlton