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August 20, 2014
Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Cup runneth over

The late Liverpool coach Bill Shankly famously said: “Football is not a matter of life or death; it’s much more important than that” but is the World Cup starting today worth the US$ 10 billion Brazil has squandered on constructing white elephant stadiums among other overspending — or the US$ 200 million of hard currency which some 100,000 Argentine fans are expected to take with them, thus depleting Central Bank reserves)? The unpaid social debts from which these sums are diverted raise uncomfortable ethical questions which should not be avoided — and which the protests and strikes shaking the Brazilian host for the past year already seem to be answering against any justification for favouring this sporting jamboree over the needs of education, health, transport and infrastructure in general.

Even if the outlay on the television rights to broadcast the tournament free nationwide is unlikely to be the only questionable item in a 2014 budget totalling 860 billion pesos where the quality of spending is a general issue, it is not easy to find strong rational arguments against these ethical objections. Perhaps the “passion of multitudes” is best defended by a primitive democratic logic (despite the mass protests there, opinion polls show only 27 percent of Brazilians to have no taste for soccer) — a passion for the national sport is so strong here that it is even harder to question than General Perón or Pope Francis. Yet to really explain the national importance of this passion, it may be necessary to evoke the memory of the Bicentennial just over four years ago — the one moment of the decade when a polarized nation was truly united with over three million people out in the streets. That occasion was equally vulnerable to charges of wasteful spending or political abuse and yet such criticisms would be missing the point of a popular celebration of a revived nationhood.

The impact of a World Cup every four years or a centenary every 100 comes precisely from their scarcity value — if they were to be multiplied (as public holidays have been in recent years), they would lose that impact so that there is no danger of abuse. Plenty of time to work and save otherwise and by all means count the cost but with Argentina closer to a World Cup (never won outside Latin American soil) than at any time in the last 28 years, people deserve a break in routine.

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