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World Cup 2014: Poverty and the World Cup

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Bread for the World's World Cup series will use the occasion of the Cup to focus on the great advances many of the participating countries and players have made in fighting hunger and poverty. Each day, until the end of the tournament, we will highlight a country, or an individual player, that is making a difference. Today, we kick off the series by looking at the progress against poverty that Brazil has made, as well as the controversy that has surrounded its decision to host the tournament.

Thursday, June 12: Brazil v. Croatia

Soccer fans are eagerly anticipating the first World Cup match between Brazil and Croatia today.  While this is only an early “group stage” game of the Cup, the event will still bring throngs of fans together to root for their country’s team.

However, in Brazil, the country host of this year’s World Cup, not everyone is cheering.  The games have been a source of controversy—public funds, some protest, could’ve been better spent addressing the country’s social ills, such as hunger and poverty. Others maintain that the games will bring a massive influx of tourism dollars to the country, eventually bolstering its economy and the impressive progress it has already made in addressing hunger and poverty.  

Poverty is still rampant in Brazil — its poor neighborhoods and favelas may not be seen during coverage of the games, but they are still there. But the country has already successfully met the first United Nations Millennium Development Goal, which is to cut poverty in half by 2030. In 2003, Brazil launched its Zero Hunger initiative, which made food and nutrition security a national priority. Could the World Games actually threaten such tremendous progress?

Thousands of people, including members of Brazil’s Workers’ Party, have protested the tournament, calling it an exercise in excess on the part of the government, and demanding more spending on health, education and transportation. The government, for its part, has acknowledged delays and unexpected expenses related to infrastructure projects that were promised to benefit both World Cup attendees and residents of Brazil’s host cities.

Massive, international sporting events such as the World Cup are filled with stories of triumph and success, both on the field and off. They offer an opportunity to highlight not just achievements in sports and human endurance, but to put a spotlight on the participating countries, for better or worse—think of the protests and boycotts that raged during the 1980 Summer Olympics, when the then-Soviet Union hosted the games just months after invading Afghanistan. Participants also often use their fame to bring awareness to social issues in their countries: think of sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists on the block at the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City to express solidarity with African-Americans and frustration with the climate of racism in the U.S.

These events offer an opportunity to put a spotlight on social justice issues around the world, including hunger and poverty—Bread for the World's World Cup series will focus on the work many of the countries, teams, and players involved in the cup have done to address hunger and poverty. Still,  as an organization that works to improve the lives of people living in poverty, we cannot ignore the fact that such events can also be a source of such injustices themselves: the media has already been reporting on human rights and labor abuses in Qatar, as the country prepares to host the 2022 World Cup—ESPN recently produced a short documentary on construction workers who have died while working on infrastructure in advance of the tournament.

While it may be too soon to know exactly what impact the 2014 World Cup will have on Brazil’s economy and anti-poverty efforts, one thing is certain—the world will be watching.


« Advocacy Helps Passage of Food Aid Amendment in House Spending Bill World Cup 2014: The Netherlands and Cameroon Fight Poverty »


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