BRASILIA – In 2006, I stood at a fan fest in the middle of Rome and watched as Italy won the World Cup in a penalty shootout against France. The tension in the air and the silence that came over the crowd of Italians and tourist supporters during the shootout was unnerving, and the exhilaration that radiated through the multitude when Fabio Grosso made that final shot was the most epic celebration of which I’ve ever been a part.
In 2010, I sat in an English pub in Los Angeles at 7 a.m. watching the Netherlands defeat Slovakia during the knockout stage of the World Cup, with a Dutch exchange student, my friend from Australia, and several other fans who had awakened early just so they wouldn’t miss a single minute of the action.
There is no other event that brings people around the globe together like the World Cup. I’m sure some diehard ice skating or gymnastic fans are out there, but nothing compares to the passion that fútbol fans possess.
On the surface, the World Cup is a beautiful event. For one month the differences that divide us are set aside to celebrate something fun that everyone loves. Unfortunately, this year’s World Cup has been surrounded by controversy, protests and injustice. As of now, 61 percent of Brazilians oppose hosting the World Cup in their country, leaving people who are excited about the tournament with a moral dilemma – enjoy the fun and excitement of the games or boycott them altogether because of the horrible way that FIFA and Brazilian officials have treated the citizens of Brazil.
Four years ago my Australian friend, my friend who lives in Chile and I decided that no matter where we all were in the world or what we were doing with our lives, in the summer of 2014 we would all meet in Brazil. We’ve talked about it excitedly for many years now, but as the date approached I started hearing more about how negatively this event was going to affect Brazil. Then the protests started and I began questioning if I still wanted to attend. As excited as I was about getting the opportunity to be a part of the festivities, I don’t want to have the time of my life at the expense of anyone else’s.
Over the past year I have read hundreds of stories about the problems that the World Cup is causing Brazilians. I read articles about how people living in host cities were forced out of their homes with little or no compensation. I read about how the thousands of children living on the streets of Brazil would look “unpleasant” to rich tourists, so many were arrested or killed for committing petty crimes, or doing nothing at all. I read about the billions of dollars being spent on building the 12 stadiums that are being used for the games, when millions of Brazilian citizens are starving, not receiving proper health care or education, and living in dismal conditions.
Judging by the statistics flying all around the Internet, it is clear that the way that FIFA and the Brazilian government have treated Brazilian citizens is awful. Knowing this, is it wrong for the estimated 3.7 million people expected to visit World Cup sites to still attend the games despite the protests of more than half of the citizens of Brazil?
As someone who is extremely passionate about human rights issues, this has been a difficult moral decision to make. I am currently working toward my master’s degree in international development, and this is an issue I want to study further. In order to pursue this topic I could spend the summer watching the World Cup games and reading articles written about the injustices happening in Brazil, but to truly understand the scope of the problem I knew I had to go there myself. There is no way of really knowing a foreign country, or the struggles the people living there face, while reading about it from the comfort of your own couch. Only through traveling there, speaking with the locals and watching the expressions on their faces, and seeing the poverty that FIFA will desperately try to hide in their coverage, can I only begin to understand the trouble this nation faces.
On July 13, the winner of the World Cup will be decided. The excitement surrounding the games will die out, fans will drain from the stadiums, tourists will check out of their hotel rooms, and Brazil will be left with nothing except poverty, disgruntled citizens, and the daunting task of hosting yet another world event in 2016.
If people who actually care about human rights all decide to boycott the Cup, then we will learn nothing from the experience and nothing will change. There already is a lot of news coming out of Qatar about how unprepared they are going to be when they host the World Cup in 2022.
Nothing can be done to change the problems these host countries face unless we learn from Brazil’s mistakes. Sports and international development go hand-in-hand, and I believe it is possible for the events to be beneficial to the host country’s economy if they are executed in the right way.
The World Cup is a good tradition. We need to ensure that it is an event that does not become about corruption, bribery and destroying people’s lives, but one that is about improving the host country, and bringing people of different nationalities, backgrounds, and ideologies together to celebrate world unity. And something we all have in common: a love of the game.
Laura Neff is a master’s student at American University in Washington, D.C., studying international development. She is an avid backpacker, globetrotter and international soccer fan.
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