By: Alec Hudson – Staff Writer
Brazil is on the move. With the first match of the 2014 International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) World Cup coming in less than four months, the nation is scrambling to ensure that the facilities are prepared and that the infrastructure is working.
At the same time, they are trying to ensure the social wellbeing of an ethnically diverse population of over 200 million, a large portion of whom live below the poverty line.
Brazil is one of the largest economies in Latin America, being listed among nations of growing economic power known as the BRIC’s (Brazil, Russia, India, and China).
But even with this status as a growing economy, it still faces many economic issues, along with poverty and wealth disparity — issues that have led to protests against the government that have sent thousands into the streets with signs and banners waving.
Assistant Professor of Spanish Nuria Sabaté, who recently spent some time in the country, described the initial cause of the protests as a hike in bus fare rates in the major city Sao Paulo, a hike which reflects high government spending on sports centers and less on infrastructure and welfare.
“People who are protesting are saying ‘we don’t have enough schools, teachers are underpaid, hospitals are terrible, and people don’t have access to basic needs,’” Sabaté said.
“The government is spendng so much money on sports facilities it may only use once in a while and that won’t provide stable jobs after the Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.”
Junior Trent Haffler and senior Abhi Alur, both soccer enthusiasts, weighed in on the situation as well with Alur mentioning a concern of violence due to the presence of drug gangs in many of the large cities and their suburban slums known as favelas.
“And when you’re hosting such a big tournament, people’s liberty doesn’t come into consideration when the government is trying to crack down on these drug gangs,” Alur said.
Haffler also expressed concern about the financial situation.
“It’s difficult seeing the people of Brazil so upset and protesting against the bus fare increases, and with them hosting the Olympics in just two years after the World Cup things will only get more expensive if the government keeps spending so much money,” Haffler said. But this is not a problem unique to Brazil.
Mass sporting events like the World Cup and the Olympics have put nations in huge debt due to the infrastructure demands and the government contracts with private companies.
Debt from the 2004 Summer Olympics was a major factor in the Greek economic collapse, while South Africa is still reeling from its huge expense from the 2010 World Cup.
But Professor Sabaté thinks the events may be good events in the end.
“I think the games will be successful; the government may rack up a lot of debt, but the government is also responsive to the needs of the people. Even President Dilma Rousseff made a public statement agreeing with many of the critiques of the protestors, and the fact that so many people can peacefully march freely in Brazil while being listened to by the government is incredible,” Sabaté said.
As for the upcoming World Cup itself, Haffler and Alur both agree that this looks like Brazil’s year.
“Brazil took out Spain in the Confederations Cup; they have one of the best chances to win this and I think they’ll take home the trophy,” Alur said.
Meanwhile, Haffler mentioned the tough grouping of the U.S. team with Ghana, Germany, and Portugal in Group G, but remained optimistic.
“It’s the third U.S. World Cup in a row against Ghana and we’ve lost every time, and with Portugal the threat is in Ronaldo — if you give him space he will score. Germany is also a threat, but honestly this is one of the most talented U.S. squads I’ve seen. Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Haffler said.
Lucky or not, the 2014 World Cup is shaping up to be an interesting test, not just for the teams competing but also for Brazil’s government.