Last Friday’s 2014 World Cup draw produced some clear favorites, but for those living in Brazil’s 12 host cities, the tournament’s real winners and losers have been apparent for quite some time.
An account by Reuters last week drew attention to the 500,000 child sex workers living in Brazil. That figure represents a five-fold increase since 2001. Brazil’s Human Rights Secretariat is scrambling to contain child exploitation before the flood of soccer fans this summer, but this effort has been too little too late. The government has spent only $4 million to combat child prostitution in host cities. This isnext-to-nothing compared to the $15 billion that will be spent on stadiums and related infrastructure.
Sadly, prostitution is only one of Brazil’s many human rights problems the Cup has exacerbated.
Another concern is housing. Brazil’s informal favela communities have been subject to displacement, but evictions have become increasingly common in the run-up to the World Cup. While Brazil’s constitution guarantees citizens the right to housing, some estimate that 250,000 people could be forced from their homes to make way for the mega-event.
All too often, these evictions have been characterized by police brutality and little consultation with residents. Earlier last year, more than 6,000 people were forcibly removed from an area in São Paulo without receiving prior warning. Police used rubber bullets, dogs, and tear gas to disperse the residents who resisted. This sparked outrage from social networks across the country.
Some groups have successfully spread awareness of the abuses. In May, a Brazilian NGO named ANCOP participated in a meeting with the UN Human Rights Council to denounce evictions. ANCOP showed compiled footage from citizen journalists. Two weeks later, the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing strongly condemned the situation in Brazil:
“We expected that the champion of many football cups would use this opportunity to show the world it is also a champion of the right to housing, in particular for people living in poverty, but the information I have received shows otherwise.”
Working conditions have been another cause for alarm. In September, authorities discovered 111 workers in slave-like conditions at an airport expansion project in São Paulo. They had been contracted from Brazil’s poor Northeast region with the promise of high wages, though they had to pay hundreds of dollars themselves to make the trip. Strikes over working conditions have stalled construction projects in eight of the 12 host cities thus far, sometimes for several weeks.
Observers are also worried by plans to implement an alternative justice system during the tournament. These “World Cup courts” were used in South Africa in 2010, and they gained notoriety in the U.S. when a 22-year-old boy was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing a cellphone. Though the street protests in June , in which more than a million Brazilians participated, were generally peaceful, the courts are seen as a step to prepare for unrest during the World Cup.
Little is known about how this system will operate, though the potential for abuse looms. Brazil’s police have a troubling reputation for the excessive use of force, and FIFA has a troubling reputation for pressuring these temporary courts to stifle free speech. Indeed, a World Cup court in South Africa tried two Dutch women on charges of “ambush marketing.” This was on behalf of the Bavaria beer company for wearing orange dresses to a game.
Brazil has made impressive strides since the turn of the century, and has rightly captured the world’s attention with its ambitious government responses to issues such as poverty alleviation and HIV care. Rather than progressing on the social agenda, the 2014 World Cup will more likely be remembered as a cautionary tale of private interests getting in the way of human rights.
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