POLICY ALERT: Rising Powers Respond to Corruption and Kickoff of 2014 World Cup
The 2014 World Cup games kicked off on Thursday amidst protests of poor public services, corruption, and the high cost of staging the World Cup in host country Brazil. In addition to the ongoing protests, soccer federation FIFA is under scrutiny for its decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar due to recent allegations that the nation handed out bribes in exchange for votes to win the bid. This PolicyAlert examines reactions from Brazil, India, China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia on the corruption charges and predictions for the World Cup.
- President Dilma Rousseff took to the national network on Tuesday June 10, stating that the expenses for the World Cup were justified and promised to increase spending on improving healthcare in the country. However, the President quickly came under criticism in prominent media outlets such as Globo for exaggerating the amount to be spent on improving healthcare, as analyzed by Veja magazine.
- Claims predicting a negative image for Brazil following major protests in June 2013 were refuted by Marcello Sampa, a director marketing agency AlmapBBDO in a piece by Folha deSão Paulo: “I don’t think the Brazil brand is threatened, just going through a difficult period…as a county Brazil has “left behind the excuse of adolescence. We have a lot of social inequality, racism, and an enormous difficulty with infrastructure…Recognizing this is a signal of maturity.”
Regarding the long term effects of the World Cup on the quality of life in Brazil, newspaper Estadão de Paulo quipped, “Is there anything more important than football?”
- Comparing research from the OECD on the effects of the 2012 London Olympics on improving the quality of life in economically-challenged East London, the newspaper questioned how well the 2014 World Cup will improve life of normal citizens in Brazil. It concluded that regardless of the end results, enjoyment from watching the games during the next weeks will improve quality of life, if only temporarily.
Several outlets remarked on controversies surrounding FIFA’s leadership and hefty spending by Brazil’s government as the host country:
- The Hindustan Times lamented the “biggest spectacle in world sport begins in the backdrop of two controversies”: FIFA’s suspicious decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and “unpleasant questions” on the construction of Brazil’s expensive stadium in São Paulo. If Brazil fails to hoist the Cup, the newspaper feared people rioting in the streets.
- The Business Standard editorialized that the “business of football” had “become quite ugly” with corruption charges at the highest level of FIFA leadership as well as Brazilian citizens’ disdain for their government’s lavish spending on the games. The newspaper also noted FIFA head Sepp Blatter failed in recent decades to “spread football as much as he should have in the three largest countries – China, India, and even the U.S.”
- Boria Majumdar, a sports historian writing in The Times of India, reflected on the history of the World Cup in Latin America, which has often involved violent local protests, major construction delays, and expensive budgets.
Despite these concerns and the India national team – nicknamed “Warriors of Hind” – failing to qualify, the Indian public appears to fully embrace the World Cup, though for surprising reasons:
- Majumdar noted how globalization has India “gripped by Cup fever” despite the Indian football team’s poor showing in recent decades. John Cherian, a journalist with The Times of India, predicted “India will never play in a World Cup” in the years to come.
- While there is a “fever pitch” of “manufactured” excitement in the Indian media, Cherian sensed the average Indian football fan was more interested following celebrity player gossip than rooting for and building a strong national team.
- The Hindu’s Parshathy J. Nath explored how “passion for the game continues unabated” in Indian cities both big and small as young players seek out adequate pitches to practice their skills. The Hindustan Timesand The Pioneer echoed this grassroots enthusiasm for the World Cup. For citizens in the Muslim-majority Malappuram district of Kerala, “their first game still is football” rather than cricket.
- In The Hindu, sports writer Sidin Vadukut revealed how he became interested in the game and expected the “World Cup will find a way to make a football fan” out of everyone in India.Frontline published exposés on the impact the tournament leaves on its fans and hosts.
- In an editorial, The Times of India expected the World Cup to shake off protests and international concerns and instead offer some “cracking football” with a potential for some shocking upsets.
Brazil will be the third consecutive World Cup without China’s participation. China made its World Cup debut in 2002 and finished last among 32 teams, losing all three matches and failing to score a goal. Nonetheless, China has no shortage of football fans and will be watching the World Cup with keen interest.
- UC, a leading mobile Internet browser maker in Guangzhou, has allowed each employeethree days off during the World Cup.
- On Chinese microblogging website Weibo, users posted guidelines for women whose husbands or significant others will be watching the World Cup late at night including advice such as, “Do study some football basics if you still want to talk to me. Otherwise, stay away from the TV.”
- In an attempt to build up China’s soccer prowess, a new youth football academy- reputedly the largest in the world- opened in Guangzhou in 2012 with the specific aim of identifying and training promising footballers at an early age. Moreover, the Diplomat reported that “if Qatar’s 2022 bid is annulled and a re-vote is held, China may consider making a run for the ’22 Cup, or the subsequent two Cups.“
- While Chinese players will be absent from the field, the country’s stamp is on most of the soccer fan apparel and souvenirs that are available. The People’s Daily listed the top 10 Chinese products at the World Cup, which included, among others, the official match ball, live scoreboards at several stadiums in Brazil, and solar panels that power all stadium lighting masts.
Though Japan enters the tournament as the Asian champion and has now qualified for five consecutive World Cups, Japan’s national team – nicknamed “Samurai Blue – faces tough competition. Keisuka Honda, one of Japans best players who also plays for AC Milan, remains confident the team can “surprise the world.”
As the host of the 2020 Summer Olympics, media outlets in Japan hosted debates over what it takes to host a major international sporting event:
- Chikako Nakayama, professor of economic thought at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, argued in The Japan Times that protests in Brazil over the World Cup’s cost and distractions from other economic priorities demonstrate “international sports events have become a severe burden on host countries.”
- In response, Brazil’s Ambassador to Japan countered that his country’s growing economy could easily absorb the cost and the protests were an example of Brazil’s “transparent” and vibrant democracy.
Other commentators paralleled Japan’s broader economic and demographic challenges to its football’s team efforts in Brazil:
- Kathy Matsui, the chief Japan strategist at Goldman Sachs, compared the team’s demographics to the island nation as a whole – “old.” Japan hopes the team’s experience playing in clubs abroad and its “Zacchermonics” – named after the team’s new manager, Alberto Zaccheroni – will make up for its lack of youth and athleticism.
- Matsui writes that “Just as [Japanese Prime Minister] Abe declared ‘the time has come to fight deflation,’ it is apt that Team Japan has chosen as its World Cup slogan: ‘Samurai, the Time Has Come to Fight.'”
Aside from its national team’s participation, Japan will have other impacts on the World Cup and upcoming international sporting events:
- The Asahi Shimbun reported Japanese police officials are working with Brazil to implement Japan’s ubiquitous “koban” system of police boxes for use in the FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
- The former national football training center located 20 kilometers from the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant will soon be turned into a practice facility for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The South Korea national team – nicknamed the “Taeguk Warriors” – qualified for the World Cup and plays in Group H with Belgium and Russia. While many sports analysts predict better results for South Korea in the 2018 World Cup, head coach Hong Myung-bo wants his players ready for the difficult road ahead in Brazil.
As South Korea tries to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time at a World Cup event overseas, media outlets discussed allegations of corruption at FIFA and the role of sports in international affairs:
- The Korean Times explored why critics have targeted controversial FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, for accusations of bribery and mismanagement.
- Lee Joo-yoon, an student at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies interning in Brazil, wrote in the Korean Times on her culture shock in Brazil – contrasting the initial “energetic, passionate, and sociable nature of Brazilians” with the more recent “disinterest and negative attitude towards the World Cup.”
- Observing how South Korea jointly hosted the 2002 World Cup with Japan, Cho Hyun-jin, an executive director at Kookmin University, chastised the Park Geun-hye administration forwasting opportunities to promote her country abroad. If Qatar was to be disqualified from hosting the 2022 World Cup, an official at the Korea Football Association suggested South Korea may bid to host the tournament.
The Russian national squad, which currently ranks 19th in FIFA ratings, will be seeking redemption after years of disappointing international play. Russia failed to qualify for the last two World Cups, and the squad was eliminated at the group stage in its last two appearances in the tournament in 1994 and 2002. Commentators remained realistic about their expectations for Russia’s performance.
- “Getting beyond the group stage won’t be a walk in the park for Team Russia,” said Ilya Leonov, captain of Russia’s beach soccer national team. “I would want them to play Brazil in the final but this is not realistic. I think they will make it beyond the group stage and at least to the quarter finals.”
- Responding to allegations that FIFA vice-president Mohamed Bin Hammam met Vladimir Putin weeks before the vote for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to discuss “bilateral sporting relations,” Alexey Sorokin, leader of Russia’s successful 2018 World Cup bid insists his country acted with integrity throughout the process. “We had a particular emphasis on making it transparent, and making it clean and open,” Sorokin stated. Russia plans on spending over $8 billion to host the World Cup 2018 games, according to state-run Ria Novosti.