Brazil: development, exploitation and the 2014 world cup

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Brazil: development, exploitation and the 2014 World Cup

by Jean Grugel


Brazil’s international football matches are like carnival. So it is easy to forget the darker side of the football industry. ( under a Creative Commons Licence)

Terry Eagleton wrote in The Guardian that ‘football has beauty, drama, conflict, liturgy (public religious worship), carnival and some tragedy’ ( He was thinking about how important football is in the cultural life of working-class people in Britain. He said that capitalism created carnival and entertainment as a way for people to forget, and so they don’t ask questions about the established social order. Football used to be simply a game men played at the end of a long working day. But it is now very closely related to politics and profit. Football is a business to make more money for people who are already very very rich.

I also read about the two Brazilian workers who died on 14 December at the construction site of the World Cup football stadium in Manaus, Brazil. Employment conditions are very bad for workers and there are no rest days. Marcleudo de Melo Ferreira (22) and Jose Antonio da Silva Nascimento (49) died less than a month after two workers were killed in the Sao Paulo Stadium, where the opening ceremony for the 2014 World Cup will be.

Eagleton talked about the tragedy of football. He was not thinking about how workers in Brazil died for global entertainment. But as football is connected to the global economy, the tragedies associated with it have become international.

These deaths show how football is part of capitalism, and they also show the challenges of international development today. There are many discussions about development, for example, talking about unequal global power.

Development has been mainly about how to create post-colonial states that have internal power, but also have the respect of other states in the international system. But people often forget about the responsibility that state élites have in the Global South to be fair to their people and work for equality between countries.

Now, people often see Brazil as a model for the rest of the Global South. Brazil is now the sixth-largest economy in the world. It is a ‘rising power’ and it has more power in international areas, from trade to the environment. Brazilian governments (military, civilian, dictatorships and democracy) have always tried to improve the ability of the country and, at the same time, to be a regional and world leader. Manaus (the Amazonian city where the two men died), has a special place in the history of Brazil trying to be a global power. It was the centre of rubber production in the late nineteenth century; and it is where the Amazon Theatre is. This theatre was built to celebrate Brazil as part of the global economy with its export of rubber. When the rubber industry ended, the success of city and the theatre ended too. Recently Manaus has become successful again as an important tourist destination.

Brazil is a leader of the developing BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) economies, but there has always been a darker side to the Brazilian miracle. The Brazilian economy has always depended on the fact that very few people are in trade unions and they can pay very little to local workers: in agriculture, industry and the growing areas of services and entertainment. More recent Presidents Lula and Rousseff have spent more money on welfare, but the Brazilian economic model is still a model of super-exploitation of the people with least support.

Jean Grugel is Professor of International Development at Sheffield University in Britain.

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