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Analysis: Brazil riots raise questions over sporting mega-events

Soccer fans walk past members of a Brazilian special anti-riot unit at a security checkpoint outside the stadium before the Confederations C
Soccer fans walk past members of a Brazilian special anti-riot unit at a security checkpoint outside the stadium before the Confederations C

By Brian Homewood

BERNE (Reuters) - Brazilian anger against the cost of staging the World Cup could undermine the argument that host countries benefit from sporting mega-events as they become too big for most countries to handle.

UEFA's idea of splitting the Euro 2020 championship into mini-tournaments hosted in 13 different countries could be one of the alternatives which organizers could follow in the future, analysts say.

Brazil has been hit by a wave of nationwide protests as it hosts the eight-team Confederations Cup, a dry-run for next year's World Cup which will be staged in 12 different cities.

Although the protesters have a multitude of grievances, one of their main complaints has been the contrast between shiny new stadiums and shambolic state of public services including health, education and transport.

They are also angry that Brazil has broken a promise not to spend public money on stadiums, while failing to build many of the planned infrastructure projects.

"The stadiums for the World Cup will be built with private money," Orlando Silva, sports minister at the time, said in 2007 when Brazil was confirmed as the host nation. "There will not be a cent of public money for the rebuilding of the stadiums."

Instead, building work fell behind schedule and the state and federal governments had to come to the rescue.

Meanwhile, at least five host cities will miss out on promised bus lanes, metro lines or tram services and cities are now likely to declare public holidays on match days to reduce traffic, a move which critics says reeks of typical improvisation.

"What is happening right now in Brazil should be a watershed for FIFA and the World Cup," said Simon Chadwick, professor of sports marketing at Coventry University in central England.

"It should respond by working more strategically to ensure that future World Cups are not just two-week showcases, but have a longer-term legacy for host nations.

"It some ways, it's an acid test for FIFA and its ability as an organization to adapt, respond and learn."

SWISS REJECTION

"FIFA has never been especially open, direct or vociferous in accentuating legacy as an element of bidding and hosting," he added. "Such discussions are often centered on the number of people playing the game and the development of grassroots and competitions."

While Brazil, which also stages the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, struggles to cope with the World Cup, other countries appear to be losing the appetite to stage major sporting events.

Switzerland, one of the world's most prosperous countries, backed down from bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics after residents of the proposed host cantons voted against it in a referendum.

The 2020 Olympics games drew only five formal bids, from Istanbul, Madrid, Tokyo, Baku and Doha.

"It is showing that major sporting events have reached a point where you need to re-discuss what is being done and what is really a legacy," said Sylvia Schenk, senior advisor for sport at anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International.

"Even the bidding itself has become very expensive and costs millions of euros."

Chadwick warned of "industrial concentration" where "the same small group of nations repeatedly host sporting mega events."

"This clearly would not be good for the public and for democracy in sport," he said. "The global economic downturn of recent years needs to sharpen people's sense that sporting mega-events have spiraled out of control."

Last month, a UNESCO-organized meeting of sports ministers in Berlin issued a declaration which warned of the way events such as the World Cup, European championship, Olympics and winter Olympics were awarded and staged.

It said that "many oversized stadia are not financially viable post-event" and said increasing demands on host nations "may act as a disincentive to bid for major sport events and risk excluding certain countries from the bidding for or hosting of such events."

It also noted the trend of overbidding, described as "incurring higher costs than necessary in order to outbid competitors....and a corresponding escalation of hosting costs."

RADICAL MOVE

UEFA made a radical move after it received only three bids to host the 24-team European championship in 2020, instead deciding to stage the contest in 13 cities around the continent, each hosting three or four games.

"There are reasons to commend it, most notably the spreading of financial risk and cost," said Chadwick.

Host countries needed only one stadium, in some cases holding only 30,000 people. "It could be the right direction, even smaller countries usually have one stadium where they can stage two or three games," said Schenk.

FIFA, which has already awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and 2022 tournament to oil-rich Qatar, has more immediate worries, as it is seen as the villain of the piece in Brazil due to the conditions it has imposed on the host nation.

Countries can only stage the World Cup if they agree to tax exemptions and enforce FIFA's marketing rules, among other things. In Brazil's case, this has included lifting a ban on alcohol sales in stadiums, prompting former Brazil forward Romario, now a Congressman, to say that FIFA had set up "a state within a state."

"FIFA has been caught napping," said Chadwick. "The global political agenda has been turbulent for some time now.....FIFA should have seen what was coming. It has advertently, although entirely predictably, become embroiled in a geo-political debate."

(Reporting by Brian Homewood, editing by Justin Palmer)

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