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World Cup 2014: Brazilians lost it

Before heading to write about the World Cup’s sustainability, I asked my Brazilian journalist friend from Salvador da Bahia, “is Brazil going to win the World Cup?”

“I sincerely hope not”, Diêgo Lôbo answered.

Protesters in Salvador at the beginning of the World Cup. Photo: Diego Lobo
Protesters in Salvador at the very beginning of the movement in June 2013. Photo: Diego Lobo

“You know why? We have presidential elections in October – if we win, people will just forget the important issues, the protests, and will celebrate; but if we lose, this dissatisfaction may turn good.” At the moment we were talking, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in demand for public education and health (in Sao Paulo), indigenous peoples’ rights (in Brasilia), labour rights, unprecedented squander of public funds (Rio de Janeiro and other cities), and against FIFA’s corruption and decadent commercialism. These demands are deeply consistent with the social pillar of sustainability. And with a clean game.

Mad spending

In South Africa, 2010 – the year the Greek people was submerged under the social experiment of austerity, World Cup related spending had soared while any intention to build up on sustainability for the great competition plummeted. Four years after, the Brazilian people have to bear the burden of some obscene spending.

Arena da Amazonia in Manaus: a beautiful structure with no future management. It was speculated that it will be used as a prison to relieve overcrowding.

“If we talk about the three pillars of sustainability, I must say the FIFA World Cup is utterly unsustainable. While millions of tourists arrive, expectations about income are not high. There are still many infrastructure works to be finished. Billions have been spent to build stadiums that in some regions of the country will not be used. The Mané Garrincha Stadium in Brasilia, for example, cost US$ 830 million – US$ 11,4 thousand per seat, which put it in the third position of the most expensive stadiums in the world,” states Lôbo. The stadium in Manaus, deep in the Amazonia is squander at its purest: after the World Cup there will be no club or team to manage it though the massive structure cost the Brazilian taxpayers not less than US$ 200 million.

In terms of social issues, FIFA, jointly working with the Brazilian Government, and based on the General Law of the World Cup (passed and promulgated by the Brazilian President in June 2013), has been an agent of numerous human rights violations. Communities in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza have been psychologically and/or physically forced to leave their places so roads, parking spaces, ports, stadiums could be built/expanded/renewed, explains Lôbo.

A non-profit that surpasses law

The World Cup Law opened deep discussions related to the pre-eminence of FIFA rules over national law – however humorous this may sound. Brazilian President vetoed articles regarding relaxation of volunteerism rules (as to overpass labour law) and new restrictions for issuing tourist visas. Other requirements, that passed, included: mandating the sale of alcoholic beverages in stadiums (because of beverage sponsors); allowing sales (i.e. game ticket) conditioned on the acquisition of other products or services such as hotel packages and travel; suspension of the right of return legal guarantee for online sales as such may be applied to FIFA’s products; and permission for FIFA partners (i.e. sponsors) to offer products or services, such as credit cards, without necessarily meeting normal consumer regulatory requirements[1].

The President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff. Photo: Dilma Rousseff / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
The President of Brazil Dilma Rousseff. Photo: Dilma Rousseff / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

While officials have focused on the issue of the political and legal acceptability of various aspects of the World Cup Law, lawyer Patricie Barricelli writes, “none have yet addressed the underlying fundamental issue of whether a sport competition sponsored by a non-governmental sports organization, even as unique and exciting as the FIFA World Cup, is justification for modifications, albeit temporary, of a national legal system.” First protests of 2013 in Sao Paulo brought the issue under international scrutiny.

2013. Awakening

“I would say the protests of 2013 were spontaneous. They reflected the desire to change and the tiredness of most Brazilians. It began as small groups of people in São Paulo, but it was the government act with the violent and bloody police repression that gave ordinary people the courage to march and demand this change. People are asking for a reform in the whole political system, putting an end to corruption,” says Lôbo.

What else? “More investments in health and education (instead of stadiums – we have so many already). Equity. Fair income distribution. Social and environmental justice.”

Diego Lôbo explains:

A recent research by Datafolha showed that 55% of interviewed thought FIFA is bringing more losses than gains. Another research attested that for the first time the number of people against the World Cup is higher than the ones who agree with it. I just wanted to bring this info to tell you the following: although we are one of the best in soccer, and the great majority of the people enjoy this sport, I do not see the same motivation and excitement with us hosting the World Cup.

Last time, in South Africa, Brazilians were much more delighted. Now it seems we are being stolen or fooled. (Diego Lôbo)

Although FIFA should be a non-profit organisation, it is collecting around US$ 4 billion – twice as more than in Germany in 2006. In addition, Brazilian government has given to FIFA tax immunity. It means over US$ 500 million we could collect and use for public services, but we are just handing it over to FIFA – while everything we pay, from food to electronics, include around 40% in taxes! So it is all about profit, and we have a lot of reasons to be revolted and not turned on with this World Cup.

World Cup greenwashing

So much with the sustainability of the World Cup! However, sustainability entangles more than a bunch of actions into greenwash.

There have not been many major environmental issues directly linked to the World Cup, assesses Lobo. “I believe the main aspect is related to energy consumption. We are already facing an energy crisis, and with the events it just gets worse. But of course with so many people flying, consuming and generating wastes, if the government is not prepared there may be a “good” impact in natural resources.”

In the cultural field, several institutions work in the promotion and dissemination of Brazilian traditions and customs, and in transforming the sport activity into a space of comprehensive training for children and adolescents, read agency Prensa Latina in May 2014. Full-blown sustainability! Furthermore, the government prioritized the use of recycled materials in construction and expansion of stadiums, allowing for the application of technologies to protect the environment and produce renewable energy, notes the same agency.

As a condition to receive financing for the arenas, the country’s state-owned development bank (BNDES) established a requirement that all stadiums had to attain the LEED certificate (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) granted by the US Green Building Council, and recognised by more than 130 countries.

This shall be the first ever World Cup to have all the football arenas with the green certification either by reusing water or energy efficiency as well as recycled materials. Two out of 12 arenas (Salvador and Fortaleza) are already certified, other six one are undergoing the certification process with the expectation of obtaining the LEED seal, wrote RTCC.

The economist consultant for the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and member of the Brazilian Network of Environmental Information (REBIA) Luiz Prado says is very sceptical about the whole set of green marketing policies that are being announced.

“The stadiums are equipped with the minimum capacity of capture and water reuse. We’re in the absurd situation of growing the grass pitch with artificial lightning despite being in a tropical country. This artificial light costs at least US$ 45,000 every month. We don’t have any sustainable stadiums at all”, he said.

Prado argues that he finds it difficult to discover a trace of sustainability in the whole event. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, his great concern is regarding transportation due to the reason there will be over 800,000 tourists visiting the city.

Carbon credits for football

Brazil wants owners of UN carbon credits to donate them to the organisers of this year’s World Cup, offsetting the tournament’s emissions in return for free publicity.

The government hopes that up to a million credits known as certified emission reductions (CERs) from the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism will be made available.

All donated credits must originate from Brazilian CDM projects. If realised, this would be equal to taking 30,000 cars off the road[2].

Given the large number of stadiums under construction and the huge distances teams and fans will have to travel inside Brazil, the 2014 World Cup could be one of the most carbon intensive yet.

According to data from Ernst&Young, the carbon footprint of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa is estimated at 896,661 tonnes of carbon, with an additional 1,856,589 tonnes contributed by air transport.

The overall emissions of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa were around 2.7 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), two thirds from international transport.

Dirty profits for a non-profit

This was around eight times greater than the 2006 World Cup in Germany. However this appears to be just some green talk around a more complex problem: treating the game as a product and the players as gladiators while the rest of the world, billions of plebeians are bound to swallow commercial TV transmissions in real time.

FIFA proved itself to be undemocratic and completely unsustainable; lately it started to mingle with peoples’ welfare and public interest. The whole story sounds a little irrational: in the end football is just a game, it does not necessarily need a Swiss non-profit(!) to justify its global presence. Either FIFA will reform itself or it can be given up altogether, as football is essentially a democratic game and thus at least the World Cup might be saved.

As for the extreme commercialism around the game, all football federations are deeply immersed into corruption scandals of hundreds of sorts. FIFA is just the crust of a filthy gangrene that touches the whole game of football and makes it a globally unsustainable business.

How did it all start?

In 1974, after a long climb, Joao Havelange, the absolute guru of today’s boss Sepp Blatter, reached FIFA’s summit and announced: “I have come to sell a product named soccer.”

Eduardo Galeano's best seller on the history of football
Eduardo Galeano’s best seller on the history of football

“Soccer is a commercial product that must be sold as wisely as possible.” And he cited the first law of wisdom in today’s world: “You have to pay a lot of attention to the packaging,” he said in a business reunion in New York – as quoted by Eduardo Galeano.

“The machine that turns every passion into money cannot afford the luxury of promoting the most healthy or useful products for active sports fans. They simply place themselves at the service of the highest bidder, and they only want to know if MasterCard will pay more than Visa, and if Fujifilm will put more money on the table than Kodak. Coca-Cola, that nutritious elixir no athlete’s body can do without, always heads the list. Its wealth of virtues places it beyond question.”

Clubs became companies that belonged to other companies that, some of them, are even traded on the stock exchange whilst players are merely carriers of commercial logos.

The Uruguayan historian ends it:

“One could say some stars have grown rich, even fantastically rich, but that is only true for a select few who, besides playing two or more matches a week and besides training night and day, must sacrifice their scant free time to the demands of consumer society, selling underwear, cars, perfume, and shavers, or posing for the covers of glossy magazines. In the end, it only proves this world is so absurd we even have slaves who are millionaires.”[3]

By Raul Cazan //

Contributor in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil: Diêgo Lôbo


Diêgo works with communications and fundraising for CESE, a Brazilian NGO. He is Editor-in-Chief of “E esse tal Meio Ambiente?”, an e-zine addressing environmental issues formed by young professionals with different backgrounds and skills, from all over Brazil. As a result of this work, he has published a book, participated and covered several events and also received national and international recognition. He is interested in climate issues, communication, social movements, and human rights.

[1]Contentious Issues of the Brazilian World Cup Law by Patricie Barricelli, Attorney, São Paulo Bar Association, Brazil * –

[2]See more at:

[3] Soccer in Sun and Shadow/ Eduardo Galeano, Published by Nation Books, A Member of the Perseus Books Group, 2009

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