Last Thursday, the FIFA world cup kicked of in Brazil & for many football (or what is known in North America as soccer) has become their religion. At the same time Brazilians across the country have taken to the streets to protest bad public services, the high cost of living, government corruption and what they see as excessive spending on mega events like the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.
I fondly remember watching world cup matches with my father, always remembering it being one of the most beautiful games that had the ability to unite the world together on common grounds. It's known as humanity's largest sporting event, I've been glued to the TV screens this weekend catching almost every primetime game but I've been following the news for some time now since it was first announced the the world cup would be hosted in Brazil.
A paradox exists between our football fever and a harsh reality of what it has taken to create the game that we are watching. It's a paradox that exists, very often at the risk of the under represented who live in the countries hosting the games.
It has always been important for me to try and understand how the world methodically operates in its own systematic chaos. Sports is something that has been seen by many as a tool to uplift people out of poverty. It can provide communities with better options for their future generations by providing healthier paths for growth and development. It gives kids a chance to dream.
While I watch the world cup games, it was hard for me to ignore to reality on the ground that people have been facing for so long. This Hard Knock Word post aims to provide a primer for the on going problems and social movements behind the 2014 World Cup, by pulling from various online sources.
When sports can no longer be seen as a community builder
So what happens when sports does the opposite of building communities and it takes away from the local people by feeding a bigger machine of international consumption? You will find scenes of civil unrest. Scenes that have been erupting in Brazil targeting government priorities, that people believe no longer serve the interest of the majority of the nation. The mis directed focus of spending billion of dollars on the building of colossal stadiums for tourists instead of the allocation of resources to support the larger social need of local infrastructure. This has struck at the heart of the Brazilian people living in and out of poverty.
"Many Brazilians are outraged that services like transportation, education and healthcare are ineffective and underfunded, yet spending for the World Cup could reach the $40 billion mark, which would make it more expensive than the previous 3 world cups combined"
This video form Vice News paints the picture of the other side of Brazil's World Cup. A quick and in depth synopsis, this is the story of how a 20 cent transportation fare hike became the fire starter that began on going demonstrations against the most expensive World Cup in history. From the creation of a police state to re-gentrification of poor neighbourhoods the Vice News documentary covers how so many football-loving Brazilians ended up hating the world cup.
Brazil is the largest economy in South America and the seventh largest in the world. Brazil's Rio De Janeiro is a city of the world, a place full of beauty and equally known violence. Like many developing countries the disparity between the rich and poor is ever growing, with the drug trade within urban slums (favelas) being the major problem that the government has been hell bent on trying to control.
When the world cup was first announced, I heard of massive raids that were being conducted in the favela's in lieu of game day preparations. I alway considered these developments as a form of re-gentrification aimed to beautify and create new spaces for international audiences without care being placed on the displacement of the current residents.
"In Rio de Janeiro, the legendary Maracana stadium received a $500 million face-lift, new roads have been built, and dozens of favelas have been demolished, either because they were built in high-risk areas or in spaces designated for public use. Advocates defending the rights of the favela residents say that nationally some 170,000 people have been evicted from their homes."
(Parts of post sourced from: Vice News & "World Cup blamed for Favela evictions in Rio De Janiero.")
The Battle for Rio
"If your lucky enough to live in paradise, why turn it into hell?" This is the question that posed in the making of a documentary that depicts what officials in Rio have been doing to clean up its violent slums prior to the world cup kick off.
"The favelas, the city’s urban slums, are home to millions of people. The vast majority of residents are ordinary people with ordinary jobs, but turf wars between drug trafficking gangs against the fearsome Military Police have turned the favelas into war zones."
The Battle for Rio directed by Gonzalo Arijón and produced by Christoph Jörg for Pumpernickel Films, tells the personal stories and complex reality in the favelas and paints a picture for the consequences of change that has arisen due to the international pandemonium of the cup.
In preparation for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympic Games, Rio has decided to take back the hills with a unique experiment – a “pacification process.” The city has engaged in an ambitious security operation aimed at freeing its favelas from the control of gangs and drug traffickers with new neighbourhood police forces, the UPP or Police Pacification Units."
"With some of highest murder and gun crime rates in the world, Favelas are communities located all across Rio, from the city center to the outer city limits. They have become as part of the Brazil's identity as much as the beaches and carnival. The “pacification process” has allowed police to regain control of dozens of favelas with plans to pacify another 60 or so, including 15 strategically located around Rio’s Maracanã Soccer Stadium."
The Battle for Rio tells the story of both residents, public officials and organizations looking for answers and solutions. The documentary also highlights a local group Afro Reggea that has been at forefront of creating projects and open dialogue to help traffickers demobilize and rejoin the job market. Founder José Júnior started Afro Reggae in response to the violent deaths of almost all his childhood friends.
From funding world cup dreams to the question of elevating intrinsic poverty, it's a bit more complex than just cleaning up the streets to showcase the development and power of the South American nation. With billions of dollars spent on building massive infrastructure for mega events like the world cup, will any of this benefit the local communities after the last game ends?
(Information sourced from CBC's The Passionate Eye: Battle for Rio)
The impact of a Global Cup
On one side sports empowers young people to dream about a better life, the other side of that dream is a much darker nightmare of a reality. Understanding the implications of a global cup is not an easy task to map out for on lookers and much more difficult the people who have to live in these realities. At these mega events it's often the youth caught within these complexities that suffer the most from negative impacts.
One such example of the cup's negative impact comes from the investigations that have shown that children as young as 10 are being forced to sell themselves for sex on the streets of Brazil to cash in on the waves of football fans heading to the World Cup.
Reports of gangs targeting poverty stricken areas to recruit young girls and boys on the street corners goes on under the noses of police. These ruthless sex gangs across Brazil have been coercing vulnerable children into prostitution in preparation for the world cup.
"What would be amazing is if the many millions who will tune in to watch the Cup in the comfort of their living rooms could spare a thought for the children whose lives are being ruined."
(Sourced from the Daily Mirror)
Seeking Local Solutions for Youth
Local action has been strong in the communities around Brazil, demonstrating against government spending on the World Cup. These movements have been calling to question Who truly profits more: FIFA, businessmen or the people?
While we can point fingers at who is to blame, finding local solutions that support youth within these complex situations are more pressing. Solutions are needed to tackle problems and provide a game plan after the games are over.
One example is "The Afro Reggae Cultural Group" which has become a rebirth of hope within Rio's Favelas. It has been recognized as one of the most pioneering NGOs in Brazil. The movement started as a cultural centre using traditional drumming, martial arts and dance, as well as recycling projects to recruit children and teens off the streets by providing them with tools for social change through self-improvement and pride. AfroReggae has been using arts and culture as a weapon against the violence created by drugs and weapons trafficking and the police violence in Brazil.
In line with the current football celebrations I've hard that there exists "The Favela World Cup" which is another initiative that has been created to unite youth from Brazil's different favelas to compete in their own reclaimed football matches.
The competition can act as a way for scouts to seek potential talent from these underserved communities, giving Brazilian youth the ability to dream about a possible way out. It also provides an alternative for youth take part in something outside of gang culture
If you are interested in stretching you philanthropic side by your ability to contribute to causes, there is campaign being led by international volunteers to support the children of Rio's Zona Nortes Favela. Their fight for a favela campaign focuses on the IASESPE community centre in Rio's Complexo do Alemão Favela . The centre provides a safe haven for the favelas kids ( 4-14 ) before and after school , Extra-Curricular activities , lunches and sporting activities are organized for these special kids who live in a high risk environment most importantly it provides an alternative to the streets .
"People may still think that the problem is inside the favela and not in the city favela relationship. What Brazil faces is a larger issue of social exclusion and race. It is an issue of not recognizing equal rights for all. It's not enough just to bring in the police, it doesn't help to say the favela is a dangerous place full of criminals, the media is reinforcing that same image."
As change makers, we need to ask the difficult questions Has anyone asked what the favela's want?
"Hope still exists for a positive impact to be made in a city that has never seen this magnitude of changes. This hope lies in the future generations to make a difference. A generation that will be born in the Favelas but one day will move beyond the drugs and guns to help change the nation of Brazil."
(Parts sourced from: The Battle for Rio Documentary)
The Federation Fault Line.
The parallels are not isolated to Brazil alone, it is a question of whether the infrastructure that is being build for mega sports events around the world can sustain the economic prosperity of countries long after these event end.
On home grown local level for Torontonians, what has become the re-gentrification or revitalization of Toronto's Regent Park neighbourhoods can also support a similar world cup like agenda in preparation for the 2015 Pan Am Games that will be hosted in the city. While changes may seem small in comparison to Brazil's favela poverty populations, it is important to draw some parallels in how and why communities change and identifying the fault lines of imposed change is key.
Fast Forwarding to 2022, where FIFA will host the world cup in Qatar, more of the original paradox of the sport vs sustainability is called into question.
"The working conditions of Qatar has coined this country the slave state of the 21st century with many migrant workers enduring sweltering heat levels to complete the building of stadiums. Migrant workers are unable to leave without an exit visa as these visas that have to be approved by their employer who often hold their passport on entry. The conservative figures of just two countries of Nepal & India, more than 4000 workers will die before a football is kicked off at the 2022 games."
If this is the on going reality of creating a global sport, I see there being a lot more overall loses than wins.
(Parts sourced from: the Paradox of world cup excitement)
So who burdens the responsibility of ensuring sustainable development exists for a globalized sport. Is it the role of the official sport organization or that of the host country to be mindful of the consequences in organizing mega events for the world. What game plans exists to ensure that infrastructure build for these mega events support the people of the host countries long after the final game whistle blows.
Without either one to the two bodies to act on what is right, it becomes the mission of the people to stand up for what they believe will truly benefit their communities. It becomes their right and duty to stand up and fight for reasons that are more positive than negative for their youth. This is their hard knock world and it's theirs cheers for action that need to be heard the most.
If you made it this far through this article, I hope you understand that there is more at play when it comes to the FIFA World Cup. As a kid I've grown up with this beautiful game and have felt its sheer emotional power and spirit. As a change maker I see the need to harvest this power so that more rights can be written than wrongs.
"Hard Knock World" was created as a form of investigative journalism to share the story of the realities we live in, dedicated to untold stories of people around the world.
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