No one truly can deny the universal appeal of soccer throughout the world. Kevin Alavy, a sports analyst at Futures Sports + Entertainments quaintly stated that the innate popularity of the sport comes “down to its simplicity,” allowing to it reach from metropolitan England to poorer, rural nations such as Uganda.

Since the birth of FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the organization had worked tirelessly to bringing soccer into the forefront of worldwide sports, creating the FIFA World Cup tournament in 1930.

Brazil received the honor to host the 2014 World Cup, and has made huge strides to build the immense stadiums and prepare the nations for the millions of people who will be attending the event.

Despite the frenzy behind hosting this popular world event, Brazil’s economic and political issues have come to the forefront. Brazilian citizens have rallied together against increasing taxes, political corruption, the lack of essential resources, and the use of public funds to finance the World Cup.

Despite the bad press, Brazil has been heralded as a member of BRICS, comprised of the nations “Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.” These nations have shown a massive growth of a vibrant middle class, with over 40 million people escaping poverty.

The new lifestyle  of the  Brazilian middle class has brought new luxuries such as cars, cell phones, and better homes. In spite of these developments, an assortment of problems such as the lack of an educational system, lack of basic heath needs, rising prices for public transportation and poor sanitation have became hot topic issues.  Walter Salles, noted Brazilian film director, condemned the amount of public spending used for the World Cup. He argued that Brazil spent “twice as much” on “constructing stadiums for the World Cup” than on “basic sanitation.”

Brazilian officials have argued that this is not the case, stating the “18.1% of government expenditure” is used on education, a major issue the protesters are railing for. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has argued that despite these improvements, public education has barely improved, with only 77% of students age 15-19 being enrolled as full-time students.

“Nao vai ter Copa” or “There will not be a World Cup” is now an immensely popular slogan for the impoverished people of Brazil. The World Cup proved to be one of the major catalysts that pushed the populace to protest against the government’s mishandling of the economy.

Other protesters, such as lawyer Bruno Boaventura, argue that the real issue lies in the public not having a voice in regards to an event involving tax-payer money, stating the public was not “involved in any of the decisions.”  Over 30 billion reis, or 13 billion USD, is being spent on the event.

Brazilian officials, as well as FIFA, have both argued the World Cup spending will be beneficial to the Brazilian economy, arguing that Brazil is bound to gain 112.8 Billion Reais, or $52 billion US dollars from hosting the world cup. Protesters feel like they should have been a part of decisions in regards to their tax payer money. The only thing they both can agree on that this is a contentious issue that needs be resolved before the World Cup begins on June 12, 2014.

Joseph Abay

Sources: BBC, Bloomberg, ESPN, USA Today, Forbes, CNN, Soccer Lens, Huffington Post, Bleacher Report, The Guardian
Photo: DW

Unite to End Violence Against Women UN Program Evo Morales Bolivia
Last week, Bolivian president Evo Morales and a variety of governmental and UN officials met on the Roosevelt Island Soccer Field in New York City to campaign for the UN-based initiative UNiTE to End Violence Against Women. The campaign, which has high international aims, focuses specifically on Latin America and the Caribbean, two regions with abnormally high instances of gender-based crime.

The match had a diverse group of players, influential both on the football field and in the broader context of development: the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Nicola Poposki, and two female members of parliament from Norway, Karin Andersen and Lene Vågslid. Diplomats from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Liechtenstein, Austria, and the U.S. rallied on the other side.

In conversation with the UN, Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP director for Latin America, Heraldo Muñoz, explained: “Football is a global passion and a great way to win hearts and minds, conveying the message that ‘real men don’t hit’.”

The larger program beyond the pitch deals mainly with governmental reform. Too often, cases of gender-based violence are overlooked. Instead, the UN urges governments to lead by example, exhibiting solely intolerance in regards to such violence and oppression. Criminals must be punished in order to protect the women and girls of the world.

UN global statistics reveal the urgency of this situation: globally, around 50 percent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16. Furthermore, statistics show that problematic regions must be addressed. Over half of the countries with the highest rates of female murder are within Latin America and the Caribbean. Tellingly, such statistics exhibit the fatal consequences of tolerance.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon created the “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women” in 2008. The initiative addresses all governments, demanding the implementation of strict laws, action strategies, and overall, a larger systematic address of sexual violence by 2015.

Ultimately, football serves as a common ground between us all. Yet, so should our women and girls—for their futures are ours.

– Anna Purcell

Sources: United Nations, Global Times
Photo: Flickr

Migrant Workers Doha Qatar 2022 Labor Conditions
Conventionally, the bestowal of pride that follows a host nomination for a future World Cup invigorates a country; in Qatar, it has nearly broken it. The working conditions of those preparing for the 2022 event, most of whom are migrant workers, have exceeded the already poor conditions of such labor in the Gulf States, causing shock throughout the world.

In the past few weeks alone, dozens of Nepalese laborers have died, while countless others face terrible abuses on a daily basis. Over the broader span of this past summer, the Nepalese workforce in Qatar averaged one death a day, many of which were due to heart attacks, rare occurrences in young men. Tellingly, the condition of the Nepalese—the largest labor group in Qatar—tells a greater story of all workers: that of modern-day slavery.

In an interview with The Guardian, one worker described the precariousness of his situation: “I’m angry about how this company is treating us, but we’re helpless. I regret coming here, but what to do? We were compelled to come just to make a living, but we’ve had no luck.”

Tellingly, in addition to the continual threat of death, other injustices have characterized their stay in Qatar. For example, many laborers allege that their wages have been withheld for months in order to stop them from running away. Some employers even steal passports and ID cards, making it impossible for workers to obtain the legal or political aid they deserve.

Despite the slyness of many Qatar labor schemes, some are just basic infringements of human rights. Many laborers have recalled being refused water, despite working in some of the world’s most brutal heat. Such cruelty directed at largely Nepalese laborers underscores the broader context of the 2022 World Cup: one in which an extremely wealthy country exploits a vulnerable labor force from an extremely indigent one for material aims.

However, after the recent media attention scrutinizing the World Cup labor scheme, Qatar has responded by promising swift action. Hassan Al Thawadi, the head organizer of Qatar’s World Cup, said his organization was dutifully addressing international concerns.

In a recent interview, he stated with avidity: “It’s not a World Cup being built on the blood of innocents. That is unacceptable to anybody.”

The intended efficacy of labor reform remains, until now, unseen. The world urges Qatar to quickly and adequately address the gross human rights injustices being done in the name of sport and materialism, setting an example by valuing human life, regardless of one’s background or occupation. If these issues are not addressed, the 2022 World Cup will reflect the horrors of Qatar rather than its immense beauty.

– Anna Purcell

Sources: The Guardian, The Huffington Post, BBC
Photo: The Guardian

How a Teenage Soccer Player Provides Clean Water
Over a year ago, Jake Yonally of Santa Barbara joined the youth movement for global water access, Hands4Others (H4O). He and his teammates in the Santa Barbara Soccer Club even went on to create their own chapter, Soccer4Water. Hands4Others is a group of young people who came together to look past their own lives and help those in need. It was started by 3 local teenagers after they witnessed the disparity between those with water and those without. Their goal is to provide sustainable access to clean water all across the world by helping more than two million people in 500 villages by 2015. They have already helped over 100,000 people in 10 countries and are quite capable of executing their goals.

Presidio Sports, Santa Barbara’s sports news site, interviewed Jake when he came back from his most recent trip to Honduras. There he and others from Hands4Others worked for a week to install safe water systems and latrines for the people of various villages across South America. Honduras is among the poorest countries in Latin America, with 60% of its population living below the poverty line. And where there is poverty, there is a lack of clean drinking water.

Jake was not just building while he was in Honduras, though. He and his teammates also spent time playing soccer with children in the village with balls donated by the soccer club. He stated, “I love to connect with people through soccer and help others at the same time.” His coach, family, and the board members of the soccer club all stand behind his dream of helping others.

Jake, his teammates, and other members of their soccer club raised money in support of his goal to get a total of $10,000 to provide an entire clean water system for a village during the Hands4Others Walk4Water last June in Santa Barbara. Jake has also raised money by scoring goals in soccer matches, sending out direct appeal letters, and working in his family’s olive grove in his free time. So far, he has raised 60% of his goal and hopes to reach the full amount by the end of the summer.

Without the assistance of people like Jake and his team, 9 million people will die from a lack of clean water to drink this year alone. But when someone stands up and decides they will no longer accept the idea that so many people live in poverty, we see real sustainable change take place.

Chelsea Evans

Sources: Presidio Sports, Hands4Others, World Vision

Brazil World Cup
Income inequality is at the heart of the protests currently raging across several Brazilian cities. Originally, the protests were about the twenty-cent price hike for bus fare. Eventually, however, they turned into protests about everything that’s wrong in Brazil.

Next year’s World Cup has added to the public dissent. Brazil’s rampant political corruption has resulted in huge expenditures. The government has spent twice the amount as Germany and South Africa spent on the World Cup.

It is predicted that FIFA will make over one billion dollars from the tournament, but Brazil will benefit very little. Originally, it was presumed that the Cup would be paid for by private investors and corporations, and that the public funds would go toward bettering the existing infrastructure. But then the Brazilian government lent money to build brand-new stadiums. Essentially, the government is spending billions of dollars on a private event that is so expensive that only the rich can attend.

It has become a bit of a paradox — a country that is a symbol of soccer to many has turned against the sport’s largest event. The huge public expenditure has left the people wondering: why can the country invest millions on a soccer tournament but can’t seem to find funds to fix the broken healthcare and education systems?

The independent protestors have balked at any specific political party that has tried to claim leadership in the demonstrations, preferring instead to remain a party-free dissident entity. Even the large Workers Party was shooed away.

The impact of the country-wide protests have already been felt. President Dilma Roussef went on TV and invited protestors into the head of the government to talk about what’s going on. She met with the Movimento Passe Livre, the university free fare group that started the protests, and ultimately ceded the twenty cent transport fare increase.

While the positive impacts have been felt, it is doubtful that any more progress will be made on the issue. With so little political cohesiveness within the demonstrators themselves, it appears that the dissidence will continue into the foreseeable future.

– Kathryn Cassibry

Sources: Fair Observer, The Guardian

Protests in Brazil Escalate over FIFA
In the last several years, Brazil has made major efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. The number of people living on less than $1.25 a day dropped from 16.4% in 1995 to 4.7% in 2009. Nonetheless, there are still 10 million Brazilians who live in extreme poverty. Protests have thus broken out over the heavy spending on new soccer stadiums in preparation for the FIFA World Cup.

Over a million people took to the streets to protest inequality within the country. The protesters’ main concern is the government is major expenditures, in the billions, directed for new and refurbished stadiums for upcoming World Cup and Olympics. The protestors are demanding that the money instead be spent on schools, hospitals, and better public transportation.

When more than 50,000 people came together on Thursday the 27th, 90 people were injured in a barrage of rubber bullets and teargas. Their goal was to reach the stadium in Fortaleza where Spain was playing Italy in the Confederation Cup, but their efforts were unsuccessful. Brazil has a history of violent oppression and the police attacks during the recent upheaval have certainly touched a nerve.

The President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, responded to the protests saying, “I can understand that people are not happy, but they should not use football to make their demands heard. Brazil asked to host the World Cup. We didn’t force it on them.” FIFA is expecting to make record profits from advertising and broadcasting. Money that will not benefit the Brazilian people.

Marcos Nobre, a political philosophy professor at the University of Campinas and author of a new e-book on the revolt, was interviewed by Reuters about the recent protests. He said, “The streets are saying to the politicians: you have heard our voices, now let’s see what you will do with this.”

Nobre also claims that the demonstrations are far from over. The people will have to keep fighting if they want any real change to take place. Even with numerous economic successes, Brazil is still a country plagued by poverty. The residents only ask they receive the attention and assistance of the government before they start spending large quantities of money on mega-events.

– Chelsea Evans
Source: Inequality Watch, Reuters
Photo: Reuters

One World Futbol Spreading the Love of Soccer
Growing up, many of our toy boxes were full of tennis balls, NERF balls, and soccer balls. As no surprise, even these simple toys are expensive and hard to come by in developing countries such as Darfur and Malawi. But with soccer being the most popular sport in the world, it has come to symbolize a strong sense of community. It is an obsession and passion with children who can barely afford a meal but will scavenge through trash to find anything that could remotely serve as a makeshift soccer ball.

In 2006, Tim Jahnigen was moved by a report on children in Darfur using pieces of trash and rocks as toys. A musical producer and multi-patent holding inventor, he decided to put his connections and passion for soccer to use. With a starting grant of $30,000 from friend and fellow musician Sting, Jahnigen created a prototype for an indestructible soccer ball. Made out of a material called ‘PopFoam’ (think the flexible but tough plastic used for Crocs), these balls can be left outdoors in rough conditions, played on dirt fields, and basically be beaten up and still have a natural bounce to them. These characteristics make them perfect for the environments children play in developing countries.

Within the past two years, One World Futbol has delivered over 200,000 balls. Despite these efforts, Jahnigen is determined to reach millions, if not all 1.3 billion children under the age of 12, through his organization. With financial support from Chevrolet, manufacturing is still continuing but the organization needs much more funding.

OWF is not a non-profit. It functions more or less like TOMS Shoes does (buy-one-donate-one) so about 25% of its soccer balls have been bought through their website and delivered with this business model. However, Jahnigen is much keener on having partner organizations and donors to help with the production costs since online purchases actually cause the price of the balls to go-up.

Ever so optimistically, Jahnigen has already been in talks with creating PopFoam cricket balls, focusing specifically on the South Asian market, where cricket is widely played. With the support of five major cricket organizations for this project, it boosted Jahnigen’s confidence in not only expanding the indestructible balls to cricket but to other sports such as football, volleyball, rugby, and basketball.

With so many intensive organizations around the world, it is always important to remind ourselves how a child’s life can be so easily changed. Soccer brings together the rich and the poor, the hungry and the full, and has the power to break across political boundaries. Supporting ventures such as One World Futbol can have an immediate impact on those worried about donating their money to other causes. Humanitarian aid can take many shapes and forms but the most basic ones, whose goals are simply to bring joy to children, also have the strongest impact.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: Co.Exist