Opinion, by Alfonso Stefanini

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – I will do my best to refrain myself from using a white elephant idiom in the next couple of hundred words, though tough, I will try. Futebol, aka “soccer,” is the most popular sport in Brazil for good reasons: people love it and it is part of the cultural fabric here. Brazil’s very own Pelé is probably on the top-lists for most popular words on Earth like “OK” and “Coca Cola.”

Alfonso Stefanini, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Alfonso Stefanini, environmental consultant in Rio de Janeiro.

And futebol is exhilarating, there is nothing like watching people watching futebol games. Sports are great for the mind and the heart, too!

There are twelve stadiums being built and rebuilt in Brazil at the moment. Last week, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff inaugurated a 70,000 plus-seat stadium in the District Capital of the country, Brasilia, with a price tag of R$1.5 billion or US$750 million that made it the most expensive stadium ever built in Brazil. The original price tag was half of that amount but all of Brazil’s big infrastructural projects always go over and never under budget.

A handful of Brazilian journalist are wondering how this stadium will serve the DC of Brazil where they don’t even have class A and B division soccer leagues. According to some reports only 40,000 plus people actually paid to attend futebol games in Brasilia in 2012.

Are these huge stadiums worth it? What about the huge stadium being built in Manaus in the Amazon region?

According to President Rousseff the stadium in Brasilia will be used for various purposes after the games are over, including cultural, sports and education events, and “possibly” used for commercial purposes. What kind of educational lectures can take place in a sports arena? A religious sermon to spell away sins, sounds about right.

Will the athletes and civilians, whose tax money is being used to build the stadiums, be allowed to use these spaces afterwards? Or will they benefit only the construction companies who are making millions of these concessions?

Athletes in Rio are getting ready for the 2016 Olympics but many of them have limited spaces to train, and many don’t have sponsorship. Meanwhile, a total of twelve gigantic stadiums are being built around the country.

It is reminiscent of the short-lived, bittersweet Pan American Game stadiums that were built in Rio in 2007 that are today being demolished because of poorly executed infrastructure. Athletes in Rio lost one of the few training grounds they had left to train.

While the government is kicking around the ball inaugurating stadiums in la-la land, I wonder if they will provide free soccer balls with the Cheshire Cat grin from Alice in Wonderland. One thing is for sure, during the FIFA World Cup, game days will be decreed national holidays in order to improve transportation around the cities and highways, trying to cover up the infrastructural deficiency on public transportation and mobility in general.

Unless you live in a favela with limited infrastructure, poor transportation and no sewerage, it is impossible to pay the absurd living prices in Rio de Janeiro, especially if you have children. The lack of investment in infrastructure extends to the educational system, and many qualified teachers with master’s degrees are paid [monthly] salaries as low as R$2,000 or approximately US$1,000.

The much needed professors and teachers are undervalued and this will have an impact on the future of Brazilian society. There is a lack of architects, engineers, doctors and yes, teachers, but who will work for those kinds of low wages? Although Brazil has the sixth largest economy in the world, it ranks more than half way down in health and education in the Human Development Index published by the United Nations this year.

The World Cup and the Olympics games portray themselves as democratic but it seems they are also creating a myopic approach to infrastructural investment in a country like Brazil which needs to invest heavily on education and environmental sanitation.

While athletes and poor community kids have to pay private sports clubs to train and buy their own equipment, it seems that the stadiums are being built only for political-electoral marketing and for private wealth accumulation.

These stadiums are white elephants dressed in sheep’s clothing, no less, no more.

Alfonso Stefanini has an MA in International Environmental Policy from the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California and a BA from Hampshire College. Alfonso lives in Rio de Janeiro, and he can be reached at: Ecobrasilis@gmail.com.



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