Are Developing Countries Too Poor to Host International Events?

By | Jun 17, 2014

Maracana_Stadium_June_2013The most popular event in the world was supposed to be a showcase for this Latin American nation. It was supposed to be about kicking a ball into a net, not about rubber bullets and tear gas.

But weeks before the event was to kick off, thousands of protesters took to the streets throughout Brazil. These avid soccer fans were not protesting their favorite athletic diversion; they were challenging their government’s outlay of money to host the event.

In the midst of struggling to provide for their country’s impoverished population and keep its middle class from falling into poverty, Brazil’s leaders chose to spend $12 billion on capital investments for the World Cup.

In World Cup lingo, “capital investments” mean building a $900 million football stadium in the Brazilian capital, along with a $450 million stadium in the country’s largest city.

Building a state-of-the-art sports venue in a low-income neighborhood caused rents to skyrocket. Around 4,800 people who used to live in and around this brand new facility could no longer afford the rent and, as a result, became homeless.

Workers for the city’s metro system went on strike in protest of the government’s willingness to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure while remaining unwilling to increase their measly wages.

This backdrop of protest threatens to tarnish the main event: the World Cup.

And this response from the local population brings up a bigger question: Should developing countries host such expensive international events? Invest in a country’s impoverished population, or invest in sports venues?

Does that mean only wealthy nations should be allowed to host the World Cup or the Olympics? That seems a bit extreme. But I’m sure those struggling to feed their children would rather their country help put food on the table than build a new athletic center.

Feed our children? Or feed our country’s need for entertainment?

Sure, four years ago South Africa hosted the World Cup. They promised they would alleviate poverty as well as invest in the event. Critics said that, once the television crews and sports teams left the country, those promises never panned out.

Those looking at the protests in Brazil believe that, when the games start heating up, even those struggling with poverty will ignore the protests and cheer for their favorite teams.

Let them eat football!” they say.

Of course, wealthy countries have their own struggles with these issues. Developing countries don’t have a monopoly on poverty.

Maybe the United States should skip its turn hosting the Olympics or World Cup and, instead, invest that money in housing its homeless population.

Now that would be a game changer.