STRIKING A BALANCE: Hosting a soccer World Cup is not all about the glory, it takes money to build and/or refurbish stadiums and amenities.
STRIKING A BALANCE: Hosting a soccer World Cup is not all about the glory, it takes money to build and/or refurbish stadiums and amenities.

WHEN we first learnt that the World Cup would head home in 2010 there was jubilation nationwide. Those who were happy were obviously the soccer fans. The idea of seeing the planet’s finest footballers play in our own backyards was a dream come true and now we have something to tell our grandchildren.

However, hosting a World Cup comes with its own hurdles, the biggest one being the financial aspect. When South Africa accepted to host the showcase, it became obvious that we had a lot of spring cleaning to do. Stadiums were built and roads were refurbished. The Gautrain and the Rea Vaya bus services took shape.

All in all, South Africa is said to have spent at least R27 billion on preparations for the World Cup, and no we did not make any profit. Sports events in general do not really make a profit, so host nations simply dig into their pockets and more or less donate the finances to create a World Cup-standard atmosphere.

Now the buck is on Brazil to do the same as hosts of the current World Cup. As we shall see in Discovery’s Welcome to Rio, the South American country is facing the same financial headaches. Brazil is a Third World country plagued by poverty. Only last week, Google had it’s Google Doodle depict the favelas (Brazilian shanties stacked on top of each other). This apparently was to highlight the controversy of Fifa hosting a costly showcase in such an impoverished country.

Having discussions with some sports reporters a few weeks ago, I picked up that most of them were not going to attend the tournament because of the cost of the trip. They cited that from the flights to the accommodation and all that was required in between, the numbers ran into hundreds of thousands a head. In fact, the SuperSport crew that made it to Rio are not even getting the full experience as most of their footage is from fan-parks.

A senior sports reporter said that in some cases the semi-finals and the finals’ tickets were so expensive, the ordinary Brazilian would not be able to watch those games. Then the question that comes to mind is, why host a dinner party at which you or your children can’t afford to eat? It’s a sad, sad scenario.

Since last year, there have been a lot of protests throughout Brazil by locals who say Brazil can’t afford this World Cup. The living conditions there are poor and so are the roads. This obviously spills over into the medical and educational sectors which could do a lot with the money the Brazilian government spends on hosting the World Cup.

That said, you can’t help but wonder why poor countries bother to lobby to host the World Cup if they can’t afford it. Economists have said that no profits are made from hosting shows like this, so why bother?

Yes, there is the issue of building a legacy, but legacies do not put food on the table. In fact, what is shocking is that even before the World Cup the picture of Brazil that many of us had was that portrayed in the film City of God, where people lived in crime- and disease-riddled slums. Yet the government has R27bn to spare for a month-long tournament.

The reality is once the soccer is over, the structures are nothing but white elephants which will require further money for their upkeep.

With all the money Fifa makes, why doesn’t the organisation meet governments half way? We can’t take away soccer from the poor countries because that would make the game solely about money, but we also can’t ignore that these things cost money.

There are several protest images throughout Brazil which depict exactly what the locals feel about hosting the world showcase. One depicts a thin kid, aged about three or four, with a speech bubble that says: “I need food, not football.” It makes you wonder if giving Brazil the chance to host the World Cup was such a good idea.

They have some of the finest football players and have hosted the World Cup before, but we can’t ignore the millions of Brazilians who are stuck outside the stadiums with serious life-and-death problems to deal with.

• Welcome to Rio airs on Discovery (DStv channel 180) at 5.40pm on Saturday.