Divide or Unite – FIFA World Cup

Football (or Soccer) World Cups, held once every four years, are a time to celebrate and enjoy life, perhaps forgetting the trials and tribulations of your day-to-day life. At least for a short while. Often, however, the people living in the host nation will protest against the spending of such a massive amount of money on something which will likely not benefit the local population. This discontent with the government over sports events has hit headlines recently in Brazil, as strikes threaten to cause chaos. We’ll look back at some countries who hosted the World Cup in the past, Brazil and then Qatar.

2010, South Africa

The last world cup was hosted by South Africa, a fairly developed country compared to it’s African neighbours. It saw the birth of the vuvuzela and marked the first time in World Cup history where the tournament was held in an African nation. It was a huge step forward for South Africa, and most people welcomed the tournament. South Africa was hit hard by the 2008 Economic Collapse, falling to a growth rate of -1.5% in 2009. In 2010 it “rose up” and gained a growth rate of 3.1%. Whether or not this was due to the increased tourism revenue generated by the cup or due to some other economic factor, the tournament brought a positive view of the former Apartheid nation to people around the world.

(figures from the World Bank)

South African flags at the first match in 2010, Soccer City, South Africa. [Flickr, Celso FLORES]

1938, France

France was selected to host the third World Cup by a committee in Berlin in 1936. Three years after the selection and only a year after the tournament itself, France was invaded by Germany. Germany itself was knocked out of the tournament by losing the First Round (at this point, the first round consisted of eight matches played by sixteen teams, instead of the current 8 groups with a total of 32 teams). It also marked the last time a German team would play, unified, until 1994. During WW2, the event was cancelled and after the war, Germany was split into West and East Germany with the Berlin Wall.

It was also a very European tournament. The organisers had decided to give the tournament to France, following another European-hosted tournament in Italy. South American teams Uruguay and Argentina decided not to enter the tournament because of this decision. The selection of teams was also swung in favour of the Europeans. 13 of the 16 teams were European, with only Cuba, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Brazil entering from outside of Europe. It was one of the many ways the Europeans sought to exert dominance over the rest of the world, and since then the game has changed a lot.

However it shows how, despite sport’s ability to bring people together, it cannot avoid or prevent conflict.

2014, Brazil

Reports of strikes and protests come in almost daily, though the country is split on whether or not the people will benefit from the games. Some see it as a complete waste of money – $11bn of it – which could have gone on improving public services such as education or health or providing adequate housing for the millions who live in abject poverty. Raids have been carried out by the heavily armed favela (slum) police forces, in an attempt to clear out the well-established drug gangs and prostitution rings. Protests against police brutality followed these raids and the similarly violent crackdown on protesters. Following the deaths of workers helping to construct the stadiums and infrastructure, there were further riots over working conditions and pay.

In recent days, strikes have taken place in airports and underground train systems, causing havoc. The Brazilian government expects the World Cup to go ahead without a problem, but many people are wondering if this is even possible. However, many Brazilians are excited to see football back in it’s spiritual home, since Brazil has won the World Cup an astonishing five times, having played in every tournament.

However, is the current situation a sign of things to come? In only two years time, Brazil will host the Olympics, another costly sporting extravaganza.

World Cup protest, Sao Paulo. [Flickr, Ben Tavener]

2022, Qatar

Qatar’s World Cup bid is in serious doubt now, following allegations of corruption with both the Qatari bid organisers and with some of FIFA’s (Fédération Internationale de Football Association or International Federation of Football Association) senior representatives. Many are calling for Sepp Blatter, the current FIFA president, to resign over the crisis. The first signs of the Qatari’s being forced out of hosting the Cup came soon after the vote was made – Qatar sits on the edge of a desert. The temperature there can top 50°C. This is a serious concern for the players’ health, because heat exhaustion is exacerbated while doing intense exercise, and dehydration doesn’t take as long to set in. One of the solutions proposed would involve Qatar hosting the cup at a different time of year – however this was impractical due to the fact that professional teams in national tournaments in many countries competed at this different time of year. So the idea was to change the host. Obviously this would have caused outrage in Qatar and many other countries. So, Qatar promised they would cool the stadiums. The other issues included the ban on alcohol in Qatar and also the criminialisation of homosexuality.

The voice against Qatar’s bid died down until 2014, when allegations of corruption surfaced. Mohammed bin Hammam, one of the Qatari officials behind the country’s football organisation, was accused of paying senior FIFA officials bribes.

Other controversies surrounding Qatar include the ongoing civilian discontent with the government, and the allegations of the use of slavery to build the stadiums. No-one really knows if Qatar will lose the Cup, or if the cup goes ahead and there is a reduced fan/team turnout.

FIFA World Cups have been constantly shrouded in politics, but often countries can come together to celebrate sport. However it is unlikely we will ever see the role of football in conflict-solving like that seen during the first Christmas of World War One.

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