Friday, July 05, 2013

Should Governments Spend More Tax Dollars (Reais) on Sports Infrastructure or on Social Services?

- A festa do futebol acabou e amanhã voltamos a pressionar o governo e o congresso nacional, a trabalharem dentro da linha e seguindo a pauta social: educação, saude, saneamento, condições de trabalho digno, transporte, etc..etc... (the football festival is over, and tomorrow we are pressing the Government and the National Congress, to meet their commitments and follow the social compact: education, health, sanitation, decent working conditions, transport, etc.etc ...) -Graziela Aronovich, journalist and social activist in Rio de Janeiro
Protests in Rio de Janeiro. Photo courtesy of Graziela Aronovich
The Confederations Cup, which brought together the best national soccer teams from each region around the world, was held in Brazil this past June. This was a warm-up event of sorts to the 2014 World Cup, which will also be held in Brazil.  The home team won the tournament with a decisive 3-0 victory over Spain, the reigning world champion, in an event that drew a record television audience around the world.

The tournament by itself would have been sufficient to shine the spotlight on Brazil.  But there were parallel activities that attracted even more (unwanted) attention on the government of Dilma Rousseff and the Brazilian Congress.  All throughout the cup, there were massive street protests in every Brazilian venue hosting a Confederations cup match (and even in cities that were not designated as hosts).  

No other country around the world has been identified so closely with futebol as Brazil.  Because of this, and the country's recent economic growth into a "middle income country," the international soccer federation (FIFA) granted Brazil the 2014 World Cup.   

But this economic growth has been uneven and this has stirred a different kind of passion in Brazil.  A lot of resources have gone into the construction of stadiums and infrastructure to prepare the country for the World Cup, and many citizens believe this spending has come at the expense of expenditures for transportation, education and other services that will improve the quality of life of the people. (And there is ongoing debate on whether Brazil would recover its massive investment.  The initial cost was initially estimated at about $17.4 billion (39 billion reais), but the price tag might be even higher).

After the Confederations  Cup, protest organizers agreed to hold a dialogue with Rousseff, but put the president and Congress on notice that they were not off the hook. 

The protests were remarkable because a  large number of Brazilians put aside their overwhelming passion for soccer and the chance to host one of the premiere sports events (actually two, because the Olympics are coming to Rio de Janeiro in 2016), to bring attention to the needs of society.  The protestors did not necessarily want the Brazilian government to withdraw from the tournament or the Olympics. They just asked for more creative financing so that basic needs were not set aside in the quest for international prestige.

Same Debate in the United States
Protestors oppose public money for Vikings Stadium (Photo: Kim DeFranco, FightBack!News)
- Almost two of every three Minneapolis school students come from low income families struggling to pay for food and other necessities,   At the same time,  politicians were determined to make the stadium deal the top priority, so, "'the team can make money." It's time we rethink our priorities-Minnesota State Sen. John Marty
While it's true that  sporting events bring prestige and employment to a community, to what extent should the government provide funding for infrastructure and other related expenses? What if this funding come at the expense of government services?  In the United States and Europe, this debate is even more important given the escalating salaries of athletes, the record profits of owners, and the increasing price of admission to sporting events.

And the question of whether governments should spend on infrastructure to support sporting events is not unique to Brazil.  Here in the United States, there was a debate in Minnesota last year whether the state government should help pay for a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League with taxpayer money.

And just last month, there was the question of whether the city of Glendale, AZ, should continue to provide favorable terms on a lease agreement with Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League.  The agreement was approved, keeping the Coyotes from moving to Seattle.  Interestingly enough, the National Basketball Association (NBA) recently turned out a plan to allow investors in Seattle to build a privately financed arena to lure the Sacramento Kings to that city.  Tax revenues will be used to fund a new arena in Sacramento.

"Almost two of every three Minneapolis school students come from low income families struggling to pay for food and other necessities,," Minnesota State Sen. John Marty said in his Apple Pie Alliance Web site after funding was approved for a new Vikings stadium.   At the same time, numerous Republican and DFL (Democratic Farm-Labor Party) politicians were determined to make the stadium deal the top priority, so, as (lobbyist Ted) Mondale said, 'the team can make money.' It's time we rethink our priorities."

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