How the World Cup and Olympics Hurt the Poor

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While many of us enjoy a good night out with the fútbol and international sports fans, whether we’re interested in the actual games or checking out the crowds (soccer fans are pretty intense and I think they talk funny), or whether we’re cheering on the Red, White & Blue athletes and the accumulation of medals, we should remember something. Our enjoyment comes at a price. I’m not saying it has to, but the Olympics and the World Cup – along with much of professional and collegiate sports – are used as weapons to sell out the poorest even while entertaining us. For some, even the poverty aspect is entertaining, such as with the Nomad Bar in Milwaukee. Come, drink, watch some games on the back patio and pretend that you and your family have just been kicked out of their lifelong homes to make room for rich people to kick a ball around.

Or another way of looking at it: Make room for the more important people who will step over you.

Thousands of families are being displaced, hundreds of vendors are being put out of work among the poorest of the poor in the areas surrounding the World Cup events – and we can expect many more in the upcoming years as more preparations are made for the Olympics. Not only are they being displaced from their homes, but they were promised conditions as good as or better than what they originally had. Tell that to families that have to rent now after being removed from houses they built with their own two hands:

The loss of their home has had a huge impact. Manoel has health issues related to his heart and his legs, and while he receives heart medication from the state at no charge, he must pay 85 reals each month for the other prescription. This comes out of the 678 reals he receives monthly from a social security check, the couple’s only income. Now that they have been displaced from their home, the Cardozos are also spending 300 reals on rent. This leaves a thin margin for groceries and other necessities.

Some families received a third of their worth. Many did not receive funds until well after they moved. Families were given fifteen days to find new residences – which is nearly impossible for wealthy and middle class people. But these are not wealthy nor middle class citizens. They are poor. And in Brazil, like in much of the colonized world, the poor tend to be darker-skinned, offspring of indigenous and African peoples.

Which you can see why The Nation’s Dave Zirin would call the Milwaukee bar’s favela-patio racistWhile largely black and indigenous families are being pushed out of their homes in the favelas of Brazil, for Americans to romanticize this is at the least tone-deaf. I would like to say we wouldn’t do the same for our own ghettos, but then a number of white over-privileged people have special costume parties dressed up as stereotypical black, African, or Mexican people. This is also a case of Poverty Tourism, a problematic phenomenon wherein class-privileged folk go to spend a short amount of time in exotic-yet-extremely impoverished locales, getting a distorted sense of what it means to live in poverty (often ones that put the tourist in a positive light) and then returning home to a life of luxury with a lightened conscience. This becomes troubling as participants are led to believe that their very presence brings about some good to those they visit. The case of the favela-patio at Nomad is a bit different as there are no locals to mingle with and see, but there is still an exotification and a false sense of ennoblement – as if recognizing, albeit romantically, the living spaces and bodies of poor people somehow improves everyone and everything within reach.

Poor Brazilians are not without their own agency of course, as several large-scale protests and occupations have sprung up against the government and its use of the World Cup. Carrying signs saying “#NãoVaiTerCopa,” or “There will be no Cup,” the largest Brazilian protests in a generation are made up of fed-up people who feel betrayed by their own leaders. As strike organizer Maria das Dores Cirqueiraone put it, “When the government told us we would host the World Cup, we hoped there would be improvements for us. But they aren’t putting on a Cup for the people, they’re putting on a Cup for the gringos.”

This is something that several of us recognized a few years ago when the International Olympics Committee was looking at Chicago to host the very events Brazil will in two years. There was a lot of talk of development and putting money into the schools – but the money would be short-range and for a very limited amount of things. They would not be invested into the schools nor the students, but to some demonstrations centered around athletes. So these civic leaders were willing to put in millions of dollars, but only with the promise that they would receive it back. Poor communities would be displaced as city parks and their surrounding areas would be turned into temporary arenas. Public usage of already dwindling parks would be diminished, and the worth and historical value of these parks, when returned to public use, could not be guaranteed to improve. Vendors who sell their wares would be forbidden, as they are in World Cup areas, to access or work around these stadiums. And communities that are slowly being displaced by rotting infrastructure and disinvested schools or by gentrification would be put on a fast-track to leave and make room for the, *ahem*, gringos.

I think, for us gringos (or, outsiders), we need to ask questions as we look around and see the way that multinational corporations, property investors, bankers, and governments use sports as a tool to continue to marginalize, sell-out or otherwise oppress the poor and people of color. Sports has the unique ability to draw together large and diverse groups to marvel at the dynamics and the wonder of human will power, the body, the mind, ingenuity, planning in the midst of luck and at the speed of mere blinks. Yet, it seems to have been harnessed for the wealthy to get more wealth – whether they’re building parking lots, transportation hubs, or fake favelas.


When he’s not riding both his city’s public transit system and evil mayor, Jasdye teaches at a community college and writes about the intersection of equality and faith - with an occasional focus on Chicago - at the Left Cheek blog and on the Left Cheek: the Blog Facebook page. Check out more from Jasdye in his archives as well!


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