The Socialist 11 June 2014 |
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World Cup carnival cannot hide corruption and social injustice
It is impossible not to notice that the World Cup has begun. While it may send some people scurrying for the TV remote, billions of football fans across the globe have been looking forward to one of the world's greatest sporting tournaments.
It is estimated that nearly half the world's population will tune in at some point to watch the best players clash in Brazil. Sadly though, the World Cup has revealed once again how corruption and profiteering have tainted the beautiful game.
Football is not just a passion for millions, it's big business. It is expected that $1 billion will be bet on every match at the World Cup. With the drive for profit, corruption follows close behind and the interests of fans and workers fall by the wayside.
Emails uncovered by the Sunday Times add weight to widespread allegations of corruption in Qatar's successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup. Mohammed Bin Hammam is a former vice-president of Fifa, football's world governing body, but was forced to step down over separate corruption claims. Qatar denies Bin Hammam had anything to do with the bid but recent emails appear to show he spent £3 million bribing other officials to win their backing. There is now growing pressure for the process to be re-run, with several big corporate sponsors voicing concerns.
Many fans questioned the decision to hold the tournament in Qatar where heat could force it to be played in December, not June. But the effect of heat is not only a concern for the footballers. Migrant workers building infrastructure in conditions of virtual slavery were dying at a rate of one a day last summer. Qatar is an autocratic monarchy with an appalling record on workers' rights.
None of these problems are unique to Qatar. Brazil is famously football-mad but the World Cup has been the focus of enormous opposition movements as the rights of ordinary people have been steamrollered in the interests of big-business developers and sponsors.
Billions of dollars have been spent on new stadiums, workers have been forced out and property prices and rents have skyrocketed.
In response to this, the Homeless Workers Movement (MTST) has led huge demonstrations. 4,000 families are occupying land close to a stadium in Sao Paulo, referring to their actions as 'the People's Cup' and demanding that housing be built.
The Socialist Party's sister organisation in Brazil, LSR, is playing a leading role in developing this struggle along with the teachers' strike in Rio de Janeiro.
Public transport is another big issue there. Last year a mass movement successfully pushed back proposed fare hikes but the government's neoliberal programme of privatisations has continued. Metro workers in Sao Paulo have taken strike action (currently suspended, pending negotiations) over pay, despite police repression including the use of tear gas.
Many fans will see the excitement of the World Cup as a bit of escapism from their day-to-day problems. But like every aspect of workers' lives under capitalism, football is also damaged by the continual drive for profit. It used to be seen as a working class sport but now many ordinary fans are priced out while billionaire owners treat clubs as their plaything. Wherever sport becomes big business, corruption has reared its ugly head from athletics to rugby.
Football and all sports should be run by and for the fans, not by unaccountable bodies like Fifa acting in the interests of big business.
- A future issue of the Socialist will carry feature material on Brazil, the World Cup and the class struggle