How the World Cup Is Damaging Brazil

Don’t believe journalists who tell you the tournament is going smoother than expected

In a normal month of June, Rio de Janeiro hosts at least 16 first-division soccer matches. São Paulo will typically see the same number. Salvador usually has around 8; ditto Recife, Fortaleza, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, and Curitiba. None of these cities will host more than seven during the World Cup.

Compared to this time last year, Brazilian airlines transported 15% more passengers per day than they are doing during the World Cup. The airports seem empty because they have fewer passengers. Planes are on time because they have fewer problems getting out of the gate. This is not to say that the Brazilians aren´t doing a good job with airline transport, but that the predicted problems have not emerged because Brazilians were so afraid of the problems that they aren´t traveling the way they normally do.

In a normal month of June, Brazil receives around 600,000 foreign visitors. That is the expected number of tourists that the country will receive for the World Cup. “Normal” tourists have been replaced by World Cup tourists, who are being bilked by hoteliers and tour operators.

In every host city, for every game, there is some kind of holiday. That’s 64 local holidays throughout the tournament. Schools have been closing to keep kids and teachers at home. If kids are not getting to school, some parents are staying home, too.

All of this—the holidays, the fear of logistical headaches, and a general party atmosphere—has been disastrous for Brazilian productivity, which has declined by as much as 30% during the first round of the tournament. These costs are never factored into the general budget for the event.

Compounding the problem is the deficit spending of cities. A little-known fact about the World Cup is that all of the host cities have ben granted an exception to the Law of Fiscal Responsibility (LFR), which prohibits urban administrations from deficit spending. Once released from fiscal responsibility, urban administrations started borrowing heavily and will have to start repaying as soon as the Cup is over.

The stadiums are (barely) up to FIFA standards, but they are antiseptic containers of global corporatism that negate the history and football culture of the cities in which they sit. We know about the elephantitis and the opportunity costs; we know that the vast majority of people cannot afford to go to football matches; but one thing I have not seen widely discussed is the anti-urbanism of these stadiums. In most cases they are completely isolated buildings, surrounded by a sea of parking and “zones of exclusion.” They may have LEED certification (a form of greenwashing) but they are DUMB in terms of weaving together the urban fabric.

Geographer David Harvey´s concept of accumulation by dispossession is a useful framework to understand all of the processes I have outlined above. The city governments dispossess residents of their streets by declaring holidays, keeping people at home. Public culture and public space are taken from the public realm as stadiums are sanitized, corporatized, and privatized. The right to free circulation and protest is limited by the police. Tax burdens for multi-national corporations and FIFA are annulled through special legislation. In short, the entire weight and power of the Brazilian state has collaborated with global financial and political interests to ensure that the World Cup happens in the smoothest manner possible.

The party is rolling on and there have not been any major horrors, so the international media parachuters are doing a kind of mea culpa: Sorry Brazil, it was unfair to predict disaster. This is a position that ignores the extent to which the entire country has been retooled to host 64 games of soccer.

The repressive and reactive police mechanism is there to guarantee that this event happens. The upper middle and middle classes from Latin America and elsewhere are enjoying the Brazilian festival while the elites of the world jet into and out of wherever they please, however they please, whenever they please. Yet those excluded from the party are suffering with even more repression than normal, or are hurting from a lack of police coverage because the “normal” coverage has been moved to the World Cup.

The media is underreporting the continuous protests that are unfolding in Brazilian cities. There continue to be strong undercurrents of dissatisfaction in the country. For the government and FIFA, the beguiling soccer and smooth logistical operations of the tournament have been a blessing. However, in the peripheries, the same repressive and violent police force continues to kill poor people, most of them black. While there is more conversation about these kinds of things than there was even two years ago, during the World Cup Brazil has doubled down on the military model of policing its population.