Opinion

A price too high to pay?

The governing body that runs one of the world’s most popular sports will be hoping that millions of fans are looking forwards rather than backwards in the run-up to the FIFA World Cup which starts this summer. However with overruns on stadium and infrastructure projects causing headaches for the hosts Brazil, I am beginning to question whether projects on this scale can ever be justified especially if we can’t protect those tasked with the construction. We heard with dismay this month that yet another worker has been killed during the construction of a stadium in Brazil. Fabio Hamilton da Cruz fell 8m while helping to install temporary seats at the Itaquerao stadium on behalf of construction company Fast Engenharia. The press office of the Hospital Santa Marcelina in Sao Paulo confirmed the death, stating the worker did not survive serious head injuries. The Itaquerao Stadium will be familiar to readers aware of the crane collapse that killed two workers in November last year. It is alleged that that accident was caused by the crane trying to lift a section of the roof while set-up on unstable ground. His death takes the number of those killed to eight (including one death by heart attack) during the construction process leading up to this year’s FIFA World Cup. As their scale has increased over decades, the awarding of these prestige events are sold to the host country and the global community as an opportunity to drive infrastructure and foreign investment that will trickle down to the impoverished and disenfranchised. A report in the Financial Times highlighted the fallacy of this argument in a country and economy as large as Brazil. The report reminded readers that the country’s minister of sport Aldo Rebelo’s list of expected benefits from the World Cup included $12 billion of investment in urban transport, ports, airports, stadiums and tourism infrastructure. As criticism and the deathtoll rises, a year down the line his words ring hollow as the tournament grows closer. Rating agency Moody is quoted by the FT as predicting that the event will “generate only 0.4% of additional gross domestic product for Brazil in a 10-year period and the infrastructure spending envisaged amounts to just 0.7% of the country’s total investment planned between 2010 and 2014.” Given the boost the games will give to Brazil (2010 hosts South Africa estimate a 9% annual increase in visitors in the years following the event) perhaps its unfair to measure it by Moody’s method, but with much of that spending localised and limited, there are many in Brazil questioning whether the benefits, including a promised extra 3.6 million jobs, have been overblown and oversold. Bill Shankley, the late-Liverpool FC manager, once said that football was not like life and death, it was much more important than that. Unfortunately it appears to be a view that Brazil shares fully and most tragically.

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