Let them eat football, says Fifa

Let them eat football, says Fifa
View of the Arena da Baixada stadium during a FIFA inspection in Curitiba, Brazil.

If the ice cream-slurping child in your family started hurling stones at a Haagen-Dazs outlet, you'd be concerned.

And if, in the spiritual home of football, a Brazilian says, "I hope my team loses in the first round", and goes to do battle with police over the World Cup, you know something is disturbingly wrong.

As you watch the first game today, the protests will be ignored by Fifa-authorised cameras. But they will be there. This is not political activism. This is the sound of pain and outrage from a people whose deepest love has been prostituted.

More than one-fifth of all Brazilians live on less than US$2 (S$2.50) a day and still love their football. When the country was awarded the World Cup, they partied like there was no tomorrow. But tomorrow came - and it was a nightmare.

Fifa ordered stadiums built to its specifications. Twelve new and refurbished structures started to take shape, but the favelas and shantytowns of the poor were in their way. Some 250,000 homes were bulldozed.

All for a good cause?

Then came the bills. Brazil, with its rutted roads and crumbling bridges, spent US$11.7 billion on the project. But Fifa was not satisfied. "Brazil needs a kick up its backside," said a Fifa official, who was unhappy with the pace of construction.

Then came the revelations. An auditor's report showed that out of the US$900 million spent on Brasilia's World Cup stadium, there was price-gouging to the tune of US$275 million. Builders, for example, billed the government US$1.5 million to transport prefabricated grandstands - an operation that costs just US$4,700, according to auditors.

Why were these inflated claims approved? One explanation is that the developers have suddenly ramped up their donations to political parties. After contributing just US$73,180 to politicians in 2008, one stadium builder upped its donations to US$37 million last year - 500 times more.

And then came the bullying. A festival that has been held on the streets of Rio de Janeiro every World Cup for 32 years was all set to show games on a public screen, when Fifa sent its organisers a US$10,000 bill for breaching broadcasting rights. Local snack-sellers were told to take their business away from streets around the stadium to protect McDonald's, a sponsor.

Brazil had a law banning beer inside stadiums to stop unruly fans from attacking each other. This was scrapped because Budweiser is a sponsor.

Meanwhile, Fifa made a tax-free profit of US$1.1 billion on the event.

Brazilians protested. A new anti-terror law was passed to quell the uproar. Some 170,000 security men are being deployed to ensure this, and 27 protesters have died since last year.

Sorry, Bill Shankly. You said, "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death...I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

This is a matter of life and death. Somehow, football seems less important.

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