Demonstrators carry a banner made of Brazilian national flags during a protest against the Confederations Cup and President Dilma Rousseff's government, in Recife City, Brazil, June 20, 2013. (REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci)
Is it possible to be sickened by everything that goes into staging the World Cup while also loving the tournament itself? For eighty-three years the answer to that has been a resounding yes. The thinking, from FIFA, soccer’s ruling body, down to fans, has been that if a few eggs must be broken, then that’s the price we must pay for a brilliant global frittata. But, with two stories that broke this week, FIFA is truly testing the limits of what people will swallow.
The first exposé was by Sam Borden in The New York Times about the efforts to build the first-ever “World Cup quality stadium” in the middle of Brazil’s Amazon rain forest for next year’s tournament. The Amazon is often described as the “lungs of the world,” producing 20 percent of the earth’s oxygen, so people who are pro-breathing might be angered over what is being done in the name of just four World Cup matches. Brazil will be spending $325 million, almost $40 million more than the original estimates, while uprooting acres of the most ecologically delicate region on the planet. Romário, a former Brazilian national team star who is now a member of the Brazilian Congress, called the project “absurd”, saying, “There will be a couple games there, and then what? Who will go? It is an absolute waste of time and money.”
One option being discussed—and only barely mentioned by the Times—is turning the entire stadium into a prison. Sabino Marques, president of the Amazonas custodial system’s monitoring and control group, endorsed this idea, saying, “After the World Cup, I believe there will be entirely idle spaces. Every day we have arrests in Amazonas and where are we going to put them?” Using soccer stadiums as prisons has a notoriously bloody echo in Latin American history, one not lost on those throughout the country protesting the priorities of both FIFA and the Brazilian government.
As horrific as this scenario seems, FIFA and Qatar, site of the 2022 World Cup, has a construction operation that makes Brazil’s look positively benign. Guardian reporter Pete Pattison, doing the kind of journalism that sometimes feels extinct, has written a series about Qatar’s stadium-building policies that have already resulted in the deaths of dozens of Nepalese migrant laborers. Unlike other Olympic-sized projects with a body count—see Greece in 2004—the deaths are not primarily a result of workplace accidents, but heart failure: young healthy men having heart attacks.