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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Protests in Brazil

I am not an expert in Brazilian politics.  I have read that the current Prime Minister is not as good for the economy as her predecessor, and I have read what everyone else has read about the protests.  What does not surprise me is that this seemingly is the first time in a long time that an entire country has protested the huge expense that Brazil has made on soccer stadiums.  Yes, various U.S. municipalities have protested the construction of sporting facilities -- simply by refusing to approve the expenditures on a ballot referendum.  And, while many Olympic games have proven to be financially disabling (among them the Montreal games of 1976), few have protested the expenditures in advance.  Many lament them after the fact.

So, to me it's a surprise that it is taken this long for significant numbers of people within a country to say, "Hey, wait a minute, we're spending all this money on international soccer when we have serious problems with our infrastructure -- with our educational system, with our healthcare, with our government?"  The amounts are staggering, and for whose benefit are they?

For the growth of international soccer?  Perhaps.

For the professional soccer leagues who try to make increasing dollars on merchandise and TV rights?  Perhaps.

For in-country soccer federations trying to sell more merchandise?  Perhaps.

For the people in the country where the tournaments are hosted?  Perhaps not.

Sure, the phenomenon of international soccer created a demand for hosting the Confederation Cup in 2013 and the World Cup in 2014, and that demand compelled Brazil to build soccer stadiums, many of them.  Admittedly, these projects created numerous jobs for those in the building trades, and the tournaments themselves will help tourism.  But what will happen after that?  And could the money have been better spent?  Would Brazil have weakened its international prestige in soccer if it had ceded the stadium turf to Russian oligarchs or Middle Eastern oil barons? 

The answers are "who knows?", "of course it's possible" and "of course, it depends on where you sit."  But if things are as bad as the tens of thousands of peaceful protestors are saying, did Brazil really need to spend all this money on stadiums? 

Sports are fun, they are a good outlet, they promote exercise and teamwork, they are good entertainment. 

But how many Brazilians can afford to attend, and at the expense of more basic needs?

As protests go, it's smart for the protestors to draw attention to themselves while the international cameras are rolling.  It's gutsy, too, as the leaders invite retribution from forces in a country not always known for due process and good justice.  It's risky in that they chose a time to humiliate the government, and people who feel backed into a corner don't tend to play as friendly as people with whom you correspond nicely.  That said, the time for the most polite conversation seems to have ended; the people are frustrated.

Now the whole world knows.

A basic question is before us, one which many of us find convenient to avoid -- how much money do we need to spend on stadiums and leisure time?  And why?

Essays, not to exceed 750 words, are due next week.  But seriously, how much is enough, and when is spending money on structures that won't get a ton of use excessive?

Interesting questions within a soccer-mad country.  One might have figured that Brazil would have accepted this role willingly out of a view that it's the best soccer nation on the planet.  Instead, they are questioning a significant part of their culture -- how many monuments must we build to something we are really good at?  In the U.S., the stadiums probably wouldn't have been built; soccer isn't popular enough, and the people turn down building new municipal stadiums for football and baseball not too infrequently.  But this is one of the biggest soccer countries in the world.

Where people are not happy with something to do with their favorite game. 

Because sometimes too much of a good thing is excessive.


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