The “Fifa Standard”: mega-events and politics in Rio de Janeiro

  • Pedro Strozenberg e André  Rodrigues

Pedro Strozenberg is lawyer, executive secretary of ISER and board member of Casa Fluminense.
André  Rodrigues is political scientist,researcher associated to ISER.

On June 12, 2014, the FIFA World Cup will kick off on football fields across Brazil. In the field of politics, however, FIFA fever kicked off in 2007 when Brazil – the only eligible candidate – was chosen to host the mega-event. During this tournament – the most popular in the world – what happens on the field will only be a small detail on the background panorama of tensions and conflicts that are at stake outside of the field.

The spectacle of this World Cup supersedes the sport and the passion of football fans.

The magnitude of this mega-event is defined by a scenario in which important social and urban interventions are carried out in a short period of time, imposing social, political and economical costs on citizens of the host country. On one hand, government agencies and private investors (including many members of the media) welcome the World Cup’s legacy and emphasize positive returns in infrastructure. On the other hand, however, social movements emphasize discrepancies within the cities’ transformation process and the Cup’s perverse legacy. Among their concerns are: the excessive use of public funds to finance a private event and the corrupt management of these investments; the traumatic social impact of construction-related evictions; the exacerbated increase in the cost of living; and the violent and arbitrary use of public security forces to guarantee public order (while not always obeying the law).

Thus far, more then R$25 billion of public funds have been disbursed in preparation for the World Cup.[1]  Studies show that public funds will pay for about 80% of the event’s costs.[2] One of the main reasons for this large public investment was the discrepancy between anticipated and actual costs. The transformation of Rio de Janeiro’s Maracanã stadium to fit the “FIFA standard”, for example, cost 69% more money than was anticipated in the original budget.[3] As construction deadlines approached, public control over expenses rapidly decreased.

In addition to economic problems, large-scale urban overhauls cause huge social and political impacts. The infrastructure projects and stadium renovations dramatically – and traumatically – affect the people who live in the surrounding areas. Evictions of residents of these neighborhoods demonstrated the attitudes of a State that is more tied to private interests than to the citizens it supposedly represents. In most cases, evictions were carried out through the use of force and without any dialogue or consideration of the public interest and how to provide housing alternatives. Emblematic of this approach is the case of Aldeia Maracanã, a settlement of indigenous citizens in the abandoned Museum of the Indian, located in the surroundings of the Maracanã stadium. Initially, the residents of Aldeia Maracaña resisted the government’s eviction order through a huge public mobilization coordinated with emerging social movements and some elected representatives, but eventually they were forcibly removed. Policemen now guard the building day and night in order to prevent the indigenous group from reoccupying the building. In line with this example, we could also mention the Atletics Stadium Célio de Barros, the Aquatic Park Júlio de Lamare, and the Municipal School Friedenreich, all buildings that are a part of the Maracanã complex and which were threatened with demolition in order to create parking lots, new buildings, and even a shopping center. These constructions were planned as part of Maracanã-related private concessions granted for the FIFA project. In Rio de Janeiro, the demonstrations in support of Aldeia Maracanã and for the preservation of Maracanã´s surrounding buildings became symbols of a critique of the concept of a city and FIFA´s interventions that – along with discontent over governmental transparency, urban mobility, and police violence – triggered demonstrations and demands that have gained strength since the so-called Jornada de Junho protests in June 2013. Contradictions within the process of preparation for the World Cup have resulted in further protests throughout Brazil. The State´s reaction to these events has followed a repressive pattern in which the use of force frequently oversteps the legal parameters of police action within a democratic context. Citizens and social movements continue criticizing and resisting, but the State has opened up very few possibilities for participation and collective dialogue in hopes of achieving democratic and legitimate solutions. By allowing the use of reactive and repressive force, and by disabling or disregarding the input of public interests in order to address the conflict, the Brazilian State also distances itself from democratic premises. Citizenship and human rights are replaced by the logic of control and punishment. Legislative proposals to ban the use of hats and masks emerged from this polarized and fearful context.

The imbalance between public and private interests in the context of the World Cup is perhaps the most sensitive and politically important facet of this scenario. The “FIFA standard” includes guidelines for the development of cities and sports complexes that require high cost renovations that result in a gap between sport and spectacle. Subtle semantic changes are proof of this process: “cities” become “host cities” and “stadiums” become “arenas”. The moment when the World Cup became more than a football tournament is therefore the moment when the scene was set for an intense tension between private economic power and the guarantee of democratically-ensured public good.

Almost 20 years ago, in 1996, IBASE (Instituto Brasileiro de Analises Sociais e Economicas) and Ação Cidadania, under the leadership of late Betinho, championed, through a firm and audacious discussion, the importance of a participative and transformational Social Agenda with the central purpose of eliminating misery and inequality. It seems as if we have taken a step back, as if the Brazilian people will attend the World Cup as guests in their own home.



[1] Source: Transparancy Portal of the federal government (http://www.portaltransparencia.gov.br/copa2014/empreendimentos/investimentos.seam?menu=2&assunto=tema, acessado em 4 de junho de 2014).

[2] Source: PAULA, Marilene de; BERTELT, Dawid Danilo (orgs.). (2014), Copa pra quem e para quê? Um olhar sobre os legados dos mundiais de futebol no Brasil, África do Sul e Alemanha. Rio de Janeiro, Fundação Heinrich Böll.

[3] Visit for example: http://esportes.terra.com.br/futebol/com-custo-69-maior-do-que-estimado-maracana-bate-r-1192-bilhao,1290c494f7200410VgnCLD2000000dc6eb0aRCRD.html, acessado em 4 de junho de 2014.