The 2014 World Cup provides plenty of study opportunities for geographers of all ages
There are a wealth of ways in which the hosting of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is relevant to the geography curriculum. The costs and benefits for Brazil can be investigated (many Brazilians have voiced opposition, saying that there are more urgent priorities for public spending, such as housing).
Academic links can be established with regional development theory (Brazil’s government has built or renovated 12 stadiums across Brazil in the hope that each can operate as a regional growth pole, through the stimulation of multiplier effects).
There are aspects of global power-play to consider too, as Brazil tries to further cement its role as a global hub for culture (the competition has attracted flows of participants, spectators and journalists from all around the world). Finally, news report have shown rainforest tribes joining in with the excitement (suggesting that Brazil’s indigenous people are not nearly as ‘switched off’ from globalisation as they are often portrayed to be).
The costs and benefits of hosting a major sporting event
Regional growth and uneven development
Global interactions and geopolitics
Amazonian tribes love the global game
[Syllabus links: Geography of sport and leisure]
Every four years, the World Cup provides a different country with an opportunity to drive up investment and tourism, with the long-term goal of increased economic development. But is it the best way for a government to spend its money? Brazil provides a controversial new case study.
Brazil spent over US$22 billion in preparation for the World Cup (the costs include stadium and infrastructure construction, increased policing, advertising, etc.)
Many thousands of tourists arrived in time for the games. Some estimates suggest they will spend the equivalent of £6 million or more.
It is hoped there will be a long-term increase in tourist spending because the World Cup coverage has portrayed the country as an attractive destination. The world’s media will have been focused on Brazil daily, for an entire month.
However, protestors against the World Cup say that the money would have been better spent on sorting out problems that ordinary Brazilians face on a day-to-day basis. Poor public services, high food prices and the need for political reform (due to corruption) are cited as examples.
There have been visible demonstrations involving homeless protestors occupying vacant land in Rio and Sao Paulo (see ‘flash favelas’ article). Opinion polls show six out of ten Brazilians saying that hosting the World Cup has been an expensive mistake. One demonstrator said: ‘I like football, but Brazil has spent all that money on the event when we don't have good public education, healthcare or infrastructure.’ There have been accusations of the police using excessive force to deal with the protests.
250,000 people were displaced from their homes in order to allow the 12 sports stadiums to be newly built or renovated.
Working conditions were poor during the building of the new stadiums, leading to accidents and fatalities. Eight workers lost their lives in Brazil while working on World Cup related projects.
There have been reports in a rise in child prostitution and child drug trafficking as a response to the police cracking down on teenage involvement in vice. Drug barons think the police are less likely to stop and search primary school children.
As well as the short-term costs and benefits, there are longer-term aims and impacts to consider. The Brazilian government believes:
there will be a permanent increase in tourism
the infrastructure improvements will bring lasting gains for citizens (government spending has included US$7.4 billion on urban transportation and US$6 billion on airports, new ‘bus rapid transport lines have been built in Rio and other cities)
Brazil’s global public profile has been raised
As a classroom debate, or possible A2-style homework essay, use the following discussion statement:
‘Hosting a major sporting event is an effective means of achieving increased local and national prosperity.’ To what extent do you agree?
[Tip: think about what ‘effective’ means. There may be different perspectives and time-scales to consider. Also, try to distinguish between local and national effects and between economic prosperity and social measures of well-being.]
Further research Articles
‘World cup flash favelas put pressure on Brazil’ Financial Times 13 May 2014
‘Brazil’s Protests Raise Fears For World Cup as Millions Take to the Street’ Guardian 21 June 2013
This clip shows roughly 1,000 protestors expressing their anger that so much had been spent on the games when social services are in need of new investment:
[Syllabus links: Urban management; regional development policy; economic development]
The Brazilian government hopes to engineer a trickle-down of financial benefits to peripheral regions, rather than only allowing the established economic core of Rio and Sao Paulo to benefit. Will this strategy work?
Stadiums have been built all around Brazil to try and spread benefits away from the economic core of Rio and Sao Paulo, the country’s two great cities.
For instance in Cuiaba, US$257 million has been spent on a stadium that has the capacity for 44,500.
However, it is unclear how these stadiums will generate revenue once the tournament is over. Some are far too big to be filled with the supporters of local teams. This could lead to accusations that the government has built ‘cathedrals in the desert’.
Critics say that the money would have been better spent helping Brazil’s periphery in alternate ways. For instance, one Cuiaba resident told a UK news agency: ‘The money would have been better spent improving the Cuiaba’s roads or sewage system’.
‘Regional disparities will lessen in Brazil on account of World Cup investment.’ To what extent do you agree with this statement?
[Tip: think about what ‘regional disparities’ means (this can be measured in many different ways). Also, ‘lessen’ does not mean the same as ‘disappear’ which is important to consider when evaluating the extent to which you think the proposition may be true.]
Further research: Article & podcast
‘Brazilian “white elephants” threaten World Cup legacy’ Financial Times 25 May 2014
‘Pitch Battle’ Financial Times 11th June 2014
[Syllabus links: Globalisation; global interactions; superpower geography]
Edexcel and IB (higher level) candidates can explore how hosting the World Cup is helping Brazil to increase its soft power by exerting greater influence globally.
Brazilian politician Celso Amorim views ‘soft power’ as: ‘The use of culture and civilisation, not threats. It is a belief in dialogue, not force.’
Brazil has a history of good diplomatic relations with other nations and hosting the World Cup is just the latest example of the Brazilian government acting as a ‘global player’.
According to the Financial Times (22 February 2013): ‘If the games are successful – which they probably will be, despite Brazil’s reputation for having a very relaxed attitude to planning – they will help seal the country’s image globally as one of the world’s emerging powers. Not a military power, bristling with missiles and troubled by messy border disputes like China or India, but the first big “soft” power, a kind of Canada writ large but with Carnival thrown in.’
In the past, Brazil has organised the formation of international alliances committed to helping other developing nations escape the worst effects of disease and poverty. It also has used its geopolitical muscle to promote human rights and environmental issues (including the 1992 conference held in Rio).
Economic growth has slowed in Brazil in recent years. This makes the World Cup a strategically important event for the Brazilian government because it provides an alternate way to build global influence.
Assess the relative importance of the economic and cultural strategies used by countries to gain global power and influence.
[Tip: In a balanced way, you should address economic strategies, such as membership of trade blocs and rules for foreign direct investment, as well as cultural strategies such as Brazil’s hosting of the World Cup.]
Further research: Articles
‘Brazil: the first big soft power’ Financial Times 22 February 2013
‘Brazil emerges as a soft power’ BBC News 23 March 2010
[Syllabus links: Globalisation, economic development]
Rainforest tribes are often portrayed as being amongst the world’s least developed, and least globalised, societies. News reports show that members of the Kuikuro tribe have, in fact, been enjoying the World Cup.
Brazil is a famously multi-cultural society. It is also a ‘two-speed’ society insofar as some indigenous tribes still live in absolute poverty while the Brazilian middle classes have benefited greatly from Brazil’s economic growth in recent decades.
During the World Cup, anthropologist Carlos Fausto reported to the Financial Times that Kuikuro tribe had been enjoying the matches on television, in Brazil’s Xingu region.
Chief Afukaká, who is 65, is said to be a great football fan.
Mutua Mehinaku Kuikuro, a researcher with an indigenous background of his own, says that football is now part of Xinguano culture.
15 Kuikuro Indians obtained tickets to watch Russia vs South Korea. They gained their tickets via an allocation for the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI) and attended the match in the central western city of Cuiaba.
‘All societies enjoy the benefits of a shrinking world’. To what extent do you agree with this view?
[Tip: The ‘shrinking world’ concept involves our changing sense of proximity to other places as a result of technology. The internet and cheap air travel are technologies that make distant places feel nearer for their users. However, not everyone as access to these technologies to the same degree. Think about how the Amazonian tribes fit into the bigger picture of globalisation. Are they really as isolated as people think?]
Further research: Articles
‘Brazil united: the World Cup effect’ Financial Times 21 June 2014
‘Índios fazem turismo em Cuiabá e em Manaus, bolão’ Globo 17 June 2014
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