In 2010, against all odds, South Africa brought the world the biggest football party they had ever seen (and we even gave them a rather loud souvenir too). The Rainbow Nation was united for a month, football was the winner, and streams of tourism income was due to flow in the coming months and years to provide long-lasting prosperity for South Africans. Or at least that's what we were told.After all the hype had died down, South Africans realized that they got the crappy end of the stick. For example, in Cape Town, R4 million rand was spent on building a stadium yet just three years later, poor South Africans who live around the stadium are still without basic sanitation and decent living conditions. Just three years on from the World Cup, Cape Town saw angry individuals throwing faecal matter in public places to "demonstrate" this lack of access to a basic toilet. Even those who wore the rose-tinted glasses and drank from the fountain of optimism of 2010 have now woken up to smell the poo coffee. The fact of the matter is that public funds that were desperately needed by the masses were instead spent on a hosting a very expensive soccer party; a party that promised much more to the nation than it delivered.
For years, public funds have not been enough , it seems, to provide a large number of poor communities with access to decent sporting facilities. Yet, somehow, Mzansi decided to build expensive stadiums such as the Nelson Mandela stadium, Mbombela Stadium, Cape Town stadium and the Peter Mokaba stadium at great cost and these stadiums are fast becoming white elephants. Furthermore, the Polokwane Municipality apparently pays Kaizer Chiefs around R1 million rand (per game) to play matches at the Peter Mokaba Stadium, which means even more money is coming from the public purse. There's also no need to discuss how the investment into
Concert City Soccer City is going.
Cue the Brazilian people of 2013. Facing similar problems that South Africans are currently facing (corruption, failing public services, large income disparities and an unresponsive government), these people did not even wait for the main event (World Cup) to start voicing their opinion. Already, only a few days into the 2013 Confederations Cup, the voice of the protestors has gotten so loud that it is getting the attention of the attention-grabber extraordinaire himself, Neymar, who recently stated that he would "enter the field inspired by this movement".
In case you have been living in a hole, in the past few days, more than a million people have marched against the government in major cities around Brazil. They have been protesting, waving Brazilian flags, dancing and chanting slogans such as “Pardon the inconvenience, Brazil is changing".
Protests were sparked this week initially by a rise in bus and subway fairs. Protesters are now also fighting for an improvement to the currently inadequate and overcrowded public transportation networks, better health and education, and for corruption to be tackled.
With the football world's attention on Brazil, the people have grasped the perfect opportunity to to make their voices heard. The protestors are accusing the government of spending billions building recreational stadiums and ignoring priorities such as as health and education.
For those who didn't know, hosting the FIFA World Cup is set to cost Brazil about $15 million (significantly higher than the reported $7 billion it cost South Africa in 2010). Some reports claim that FIFA walked away from the 2010 World Cup with $3.2 billion, while the Local Organizing Committee only earned about $70-100 million. Furthermore, the tournament only added 0.4% to South Africa's gross domestic product.
I digress. In 2013, the Brazilians have used football - or football's ability to draw the world's attention to a nation - to make their voices heard. As a certain journalist pointed out, "mega sports events create a coterie of crooked politicos, corporate interests, and professional organizers indifferent to the realities outside the stadiums," and in spite of Brazilians' immense love for the game, the Brazilian people are making sure that the world is aware of the realities outside their beautiful stadiums.
Bill Shankly once famously said: "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that." Personally, I believe that football has been put on this pedestal and its importance has been greatly exaggerated by many. But now, the Brazilian people are managing to put social issues back into focus. I hope that this does not eventually come at the cost of a life.
I also hope that the actions of Brazilian protestors can lead to some sort of long-lasting positive effect on their lives and while also opening up people's minds to the greater costs and disadvantages of hosting a mega-events such as the World Cup, because in the end, football is just a game. It is a great game: a great game that provides a form of enjoyable escapism. Governments and citizens alike should never forget that public money may be better used helping the poor escape poverty and helping those who cannot read to escape illiteracy (among other things) rather than channeling scarce resources to once-off events like the World Cup.
Good luck, Brazil! Thomas Monyepao You can find me on twitter as @Tom_18Yards