By Agam Dhingra:
The recent wave of demonstrations in Brazil over high cost of transport facilities and massive claims on health and welfare budgets as a means to finance next year’s football World Cup and the Olympics in 2016 brings to light the growing distrust toward politically elected leaders and public angst against corruption, unnecessary display of extravagance in hosting the major sporting events and lack of development at the grass roots levels.
Something similar was noticed during the aftermath of the 2010 Common Wealth Games in Delhi. While the games were declared to be a success, reports of rampant corruption, haphazard and ill-thought development coupled with hollow promises of ‘legacies’ forced people out on the streets and demand action against the culprits. The result is for everyone to see — stadiums, props, sports equipment, etc., lie in shambles and disregard. Although it is true that such mega sporting events and other international events help catapult the hosting nations into global limelight. Yet, there is no significant proof that the benefits accruing out of the huge costs and debt incurred in the run up to such events trickle down to the middle class and others.
Inflation, slowing economy, poor education and health facilities seem to have weighed heavily on the Brazilians. No coherent plans and uncertainty over the future use of stadiums built at huge costs have further angered the protesters. The World Bank ranks Brazil as the world’s seventh largest economy but ranks it in the bottom 10 per cent in terms of income equality. Add to that a regressive taxation system, increase in crime rate and lack of initiative and accountability on the part of those in authority and you get the best ingredients for the people to revolt against government’s failure to address key issues. The demands of the protesters remain simple — to increase spending on public welfare programmes, implement reforms that lead to inclusive growth and effectively tackle the issue of graft and corruption rather than awarding infrastructure projects at exorbitant costs to international firms.
The protests further question Brazil’s ability to provide security during the games, which is extremely crucial for the success of any international event. The government’s plea that the World Cup and Olympics will help improve quality of life and ensure better access to public services, the detractors are quick to question the need to first splurge millions of dollars on such events when the same could be diverted in ensuring proper implementation of existing welfare schemes.
Only time will tell whether the World Cup and Olympics prove beneficial to Brazil and help boost growth or prove devastating as in the case of Athens but it can be only hoped that life soon returns to normalcy and people’s grievances are heard and addressed without loss of human life and damage to public or private property.