by Benny Escobedo
Even though it ended six weeks ago, I’m still thinking about the World Cup – just not for the reasons one might expect.
I have been passionate about soccer my whole life and I couldn’t wait to see the world’s best soccer teams do battle on the field over the course of a month this summer. What I didn’t anticipate was that this World Cup would wake me up to a side of the game I’d never thought about: the cost of the tournament on ordinary people living in the host country.
The FIFA World Cup takes place every four years and for most soccer players and fans, it is the center stage where qualifying nations fight it out on the pitch. Fans travel to the host nation by the hundreds of thousands to watch soccer players either excel or flop as they play for their country. But non-soccer related problems can sometimes overshadow this majestic tournament, and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was no exception.
It reportedly cost Brazil $11 billion to build the 12 brand-new soccer stadiums for the World Cup. As a result, citizens took to the streets to protest the new stadiums, asking why that money hadn’t gone to the people who needed it most. Hundreds of thousands of citizens in the city of Rio de Janeiro alone face poor schools, poor sewage systems and underdeveloped hospitals, conditions that have been well documented.
As the World Cup drew near, news of the popular protests in Brazil grew. Money wasn’t the only issue. In the rush to construct the new stadiums by mid-June, eight Brazilian construction workers died on the job, averaging one worker each month. Some blamed FIFA for the worker’s deaths.
Many civilians turned to civil disobedience, some even ‘rioting’ in major Brazilian cities. From my living room in Merced, I slowly became aware that Brazilian citizens were expressing their dissatisfaction with the amount of sacrifice the World Cup had cost them, in both money and human life. I remember thinking little of the protests initially — my love for the game blinded me to the reality of what I saw on TV and read in the newspaper.
The soccer fans I knew, like me, remained undaunted and awaited the Cup with excitement.
My friends and I had told each other that we were going to watch the games, regardless of what happened in Brazil because we felt that the Brazilians would protest against their government whether the World Cup happened or not.
So I did watch the game, and I enjoyed it. The Cup even brought my family together, as relatives I had not seen in months came over to my house to watch the final. However, I still question my decision to watch the games and pretend that nothing was wrong in Brazil. I think about how a nation that has an average annual income of less than $23,000 had to fork over $11 billion for a soccer competition. Is the love for this beautiful game really worth so much? Was I supporting inequality by enjoying the games? These are the questions that swirl in my head, but I have no answer. Perhaps because I love the game — too much.