How the real costs to democracy and the body politic that come from hosting a World Cup or Olympics outweigh the temporal joy that such events bring.
This summer, the world’s eyes will be on Brazil as it prepares to host the World Cup. Hundreds of thousands will descend, lured by the beautiful game and by promises of equally beautiful beaches and people. The same attractions will draw people (and the world’s media) to Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Summer Olympics. While the Nation sports editor Zirin (Game Over: How Politics Has Turned the Sports World Upside Down, 2013, etc.) understands the appeal of the spectacle, he is under no illusions regarding its costs. The author ruthlessly tears apart the rationale of a country like Brazil—which aspires to the top tier of world powers but has entrenched problems with poverty and service delivery and health care and providing adequate schools and myriad other issues—hosting a World Cup and Olympics that will not only fail to alleviate, but will exacerbate the country’s problems. Zirin identifies the heart of the dilemma as “neoliberal plunder,” whereby wealth is transferred “out of the public social safety net and into the hands of private capital.” FIFA, the global body that governs football, and the International Olympic Committee are two of the chief villains in this scenario, but a range of political elites share accountability for using the events for the purpose of enriching themselves or accomplishing personal and political agendas. Zirin shows the boondoggle that are FIFA stadium demands and the flimsy pretexts behind the removals of and crackdowns on Brazil’s favelas, the so-called slums that really are vibrant neighborhoods of the lower classes.
Millions will enjoy the World Cup and Olympics, but Zirin justly reminds readers of the real human costs beyond the spectacle.