Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

International Games Cost More Than Just Money

Illustration by Lya Hernandez.

I wrote a column earlier this year discussing the chronic mismanagement of the Olympics and the havoc they wreak on the cities who host them. Perhaps my lens was too narrow––enormous global sporting events appear to bring this kind of chaos everywhere they land.

Brazil recently deployed more than 2,000 troops into a slum in Rio de Janeiro in an attempt to curb gang violence against police in the area and to secure tourists for its upcoming World Cup. The soldiers appear to have succeeded in cooling down the violence there, but their mere presence demonstrates a disturbing facet of the international soccer tournament. The drug gangs are a problem all the time, but only when they threatened foreign tourism did the government of Brazil put its foot down.

The soldiers’ mission to “pacify” the slums’ residents will continue through July, turning the entire neighborhood into a sort of benevolent police state. While it’s better than the alternative––a hostile takeover by the street gang Comando Vermelho––the fact that it took the World Cup to prompt action in the slums is worrisome.

Of course I don’t expect Brazil to allow drug gangs to run wild during one of the world’s most popular sporting events. But the slums have always been a problem. The fact that they chose the short-term option of establishing military control over their own citizens rather than working toward lasting change lays bare a great fallacy in the doctrine behind these events.

Far from bringing the world together, as proponents claim they do, events like the World Cup show us exactly where we’re farthest apart. The people in that slum will never see a World Cup match––they’ll only see the wealthy tourists passing through their neighborhood on their way to the twelve lavish stadiums Brazil built for the cup. The World Cup, and events like it, put a damper on real domestic issues in the countries that host them in favor of vague boasts of international unity.

The World Cup does create certain advantages for the countries that host it, notably a brief influx of cash from other nations, but these advantages are short-lived. It’s hard to believe that turning Brazil into a borderline police state with several brand new, expensive soccer stadiums is worth the short-term earnings the cup garners the nation. Adding in the recent murder wave sweeping Rio de Janeiro in anticipation of the cup and the projected increases in crimes directly associated with events of this magnitude (most obviously human trafficking), one can’t help but reevaluate the assertion that such gatherings help the people of their host nations.

Sports can be great. They do create ties between people and between nations, even if those ties are only universal annoyance at vuvuzela-wielding crowds. But we should remember that for every bit of international unity a game creates, there can be much more serious human costs. 

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