Commentary: World Cup Soccer, more than a game (Brazil)

More than a game: By D.R. Miller

World Cup Soccer

(AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Global Colours: Every four years, millions of fans gather in person at watch parties in public parks and bars to see the best of the best players face off for bragging rights until another four years. This remarkable event never seems to be far from controversy wherever it is being played. These controversies range from soccer or football, corruptions and the socio-economic responsibility it should take on in our society.

Despite the logistics, since the 2014 games begun, the Amazon colors have taken over our television, iPhones, smartphones, and iPads like a rainbow. However, beneath it all, local residents are crying for a new economic canvas to modernize and move poor people to better standard of living. They are the ones being left out of the prints. After the final whistle has blown, they too will be still asking economic referees for a penalty that was not given on a foul play.

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Credit Photo: Reuters

The poor socio-economic issues surrounding these games often erupt in protests. The games go on, but the turmoil lingers, blocks from where the games are being played. In the end, these issues never left, as they will re-emerge like the sea rushing back to the shores to recreate the sand paths that were eroded by rich footprints left the day before.

Football is a global game that originated in England, but later called soccer in the US. The game unites people. Relatively, it is not expensive to start a game. However, the gap between the rich and the poor is further than the locations where these games are being played, while the poverty is closer than the two goal posts.

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Photo: Credit Credit Forbes

The Brazilian local economy problems have been overlooked,” several protesters argued. It appears this colour is seldom beamed to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Brazilians are now under the microscope. The carefully orchestrated images that emerge from the sideline will have a lasting effect.

The World Cup is bigger than its location, despite heartaches, especially from the early departure by England, Italy and Australia. However, the stage is still where players and supporters use the event to highlight their countries, send statements, and reconnect with compatriots who are still club rivals. This is like a family reunion before they head back to business.

Most importantly, lifelong friendships are formed, even between countries without diplomatic ties and where cultural divides are rooted in political turmoil.

Yes! This is the real “World Champion Series,” and the true world champions are crowned after eight weeks.

The Economics: These games are being led under the International Association Federation of Football (FIFA). It is a billion-dollar industry, and throughout this region, the games are ubiquitous. Forbes magazine has reported that (FIFA) will generate about $4 billion in revenue. However, more needs to be done to promote social programs to cut poverty and not the appearance of forcing local economies to stretch their budgets to accommodate its demands.

In preparation of the 2014 World Cup, an estimated cost of up to US$11 billion was spent — while the Brazilian economy remains stagnant. However, the government has predicted that it will be a net positive for the overall economy, stemming from event-related services among several industries.

world cupWherever FIFA places its goal posts, it is always under the microscope. Recently published in a British magazine, the organization is being investigated on corruption and bribes related to the Qatar 2022 bid. Nevertheless, FIFA always manages to execute successful events. The game between the US and Portugal had one of the highest ratings, upward of 21 million. Imagine if these fans force FIFA to make sure some economic balance where it places the next goal posts.

FIFA’s operation is not much different from the American National Football League (NFL). Inside these games, recruitment is alive. This is where wealthy club managers scope every play, searching for the next star and the face of new marketing global campaigns.


BrazilBrazil is not alone in this new paradigm shift, as the media outlets would have liked us to believe. In the US, billions have also been spent on NFL stadiums and baseball parks, funded with taxpayers’ money. In some cases, poor neighbours are also uprooted; residents are priced out of the real estate market, and relocated for the perfect camera shots. Often these public investments are unsuccessful. The fans are gone and games are empty.

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YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images)

Economic gentrification has taken place for over a decade in other areas like China, Caribbean and Europe.Sure, these new areas will attract visitors in the long-run, but one cannot ignore the fact that, a few blocks down the street, across from these new complexes lie drug-infested housing projects, prostitution, sexual violence, and even exploitation of children, as many wait for a foul ball to exit the stadiums to be noticed.

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The socio-economic argument that surrounds the World Cup is nothing new. In 2010, South Africa went through the same issues on how much its own government spent that could have been used to move people out of poverty.

Soccer, or football, has generated several global stars, and has moved families out of poverty. Some of their stories are similar to some players of the NFL, National Basketball Association (NBA), baseball and many other professional sports. In some areas, the millions generated from players who left slums (ghettos) seldom trickle down to communities where it all started.

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The other Brazil

Game Lessons: With success should come responsibility, and despite the Beautiful Game that has broken down barriers, some players still face discrimination. Some are called niggers, monkey and banana being used as symbol a games by some fans. Such as gentrification, our society has been increasingly shifting as it is becoming more diverse and that sometimes causes tension

FIFA should know how to combat these issues. It has been around since 1904 and now has over 300,000 clubs and over 240 million players around the world.

The game represents a much wider reach far beyond 90 minutes on the field. It is an extension of the communities, economics, discipline teamwork, acceptance, talent optimization and diplomacy, even between nations with political tensions.

As a young man, a soccer/football field and now “pitch” as it is called by some was critical to stay off the streets after school. Although not all young players became stars, the friendships gained, and lessons learned lasted a lifetime.

Often I join a few new fans at the local sport bars who seem intrigued with long pauses when they realize a few team’s starting 11 such as the French, Germans, the Italians have black players, and some are Muslims. It is more than a game and awareness is key. Thirty years later since I had to navigate drug and crime infested areas to reach a local field, I wondered if our own socio-economic polarization on this side of town has reduced some of our imagination. Perhaps our own major league should do more.

Many now are aware that the Iranians plays soccer and not everything is about nuclear weapons and tension with the Israelis. Even the Israelis have a solid team. On the Latin side of town, some players are of African descent, with similarities as an NFL player and they too are extremely rich and more famous.

(AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Responsibility: FIFA is excellent at managing the global operation. However, as our society becomes more diverse, isolated by ideology and personal interests, it will need more than building stadiums. Equality, discrimination, and a platform for players to speak when issues threaten to reduce the next generation of players.

This 2014 World Cup has been a homecoming for many South American teams, and celebrations have been tremendous. However, there is a dark side that is lurking in some countries just north of these games off the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of children who have fled their countries where a few dominating stars call home.


Border kids(1)Most of these children without their parents are under age 10 and now in detention camps at the US border. Up to 90,000 came from Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala as reported. These young people fled to escape sexual violence and other inhumane treatment stemming from crime. No one will know the long-term physiological impact but it can be devastating, as studies have shown.  Some of the children I believe have left posters of favourite players in the game today. However, it seems their stories have gone unnoticed until the final whistle has been blown. These players have to step up, as most of the atrocities are a few blocks from their own stadiums.

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Italian star Mario Balotelli

The football organizations and its players cannot be the world police but with success and global appeal comes responsibility to speak in humanitarian crisis. Billions are being spent to create perfect pictures while others seek the next Latin star to fill their stadiums from ticket sales.

Sadly, some are outside the gated walls looking to take the dangerous trip north, while other pitches are filled with toxins and the goal posts are two empty containers with lead. Maybe revenue generated can be used to at least give awareness to this problem.

Recently, Italian star Mario Balotelli spoke up after he faced racial slurs from a few fans and more players have to do the same.
Extra Minutes: These extra minutes added to games can generate more revenue for FIFA. However, in a few weeks, the cameras will be gone; and well-dressed immigrant men and women from the television networks with few selected feel-good stories, while surrounded with security as if they are in a war zone, will leave town.

When the final whistle is blown, some of the players will have to pass through their poor towns and cities plagued with violence. Before FIFA canvasses the next venue, it should not only seek ways on how to increase its own balance sheet. It must make sure the community economic impact benefits all, regardless of colour, class, race, and socio-economic status, because the next 100 years can only be beautiful if it remains more than a game.

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Commentary: Are we there yet

By Derrick Miller: Published on June 17, 2014

Obama

Election Night

Reflection: A little over 60 months ago, the US elected its first African American president, Barack Obama. His election was not only an historic event; it was believed to be a new paradigm shift where collaboration on a new union emerged. His election had the prescriptions for equality, social and economic justice, and even racial harmony.

Despite the celebration worldwide, several economies had already collapsed a few months before in the 2008 economic meltdown. The Caribbean economy caught the economic virus, as a major economic bloc, Europe and the United States, suffered the most. This was what most economists called a “flatting of the global economy.”

Global investments diminished and vital social services suffered as austerity became the focus on government budgets. Counties that were unable to manage became welfare recipients disguised as investments. The economic collapse created an opportunity, especially for China. Countries such as Jamaica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago as major developed countries in the region were forced even into more marriages with China, and others finally brought their relationship out in the open.

China used the opportunity to expand its conquest. Countries such as Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, and Jamaica, received community-based stadiums, schools and hospitals and other monetary contributions throughout the regions. As reported, China’s quest is both economic and political. However, we will have to see how what amounted to an arranged marriage evolves after the honeymoon period is over when China’s real motive is revealed.

The region’s once colonial powers such as the Spanish, English, French, and Dutch that once held possession over these islands, at the time of great need to restore stability seemed to have closed their checkbooks. Many workers from the region played a pivotal role in building their own industrial economies. I believe they could have done more despite their own problems. Even if the US wanted to help, the political divide along ideology would have made it difficult to offer much needed financial support.

Unemployment chartMoving: In May 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that almost every job lost has been recovered in the US. I am not sure if the same can be said in the region. We can debate if they are all full-time, or if enough jobs are being created to reach everyone.

Today’s data has provided some hope, especially in countries relying heavily on tourism. They suffered tremendously during the economic meltdown, including some devaluation of local currencies that made hope an elusive word.

US rules now must that banks be better capitalized. The law minimizes risks from complexity of these financial derivatives where only few understood the financial dispersion.

However, questions remain if new financial laws have worked for average people. Today about 1 percent of the population holds 99 percent of the wealth. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened further.

Many have now joined Pope Francis’ call for the redistribution wealth to the poor. Can the region’s leaders consider this without being called a Marxist? On the other hand, most of the wealthy people are hardworking and employed. Nevertheless, more needs to be done through collaboration.

Even McDonald, the world biggest fast food chain, has agreed to increase its minimum wage under from pressure. Many of today’s fast food workers are now older men and women with mortgages, and kids in schools. It is my hope that this shift becomes universal and reaches the Caribbean.

The economic meltdown I believe was a good lesson. It has provided a crash course for the region that it cannot continue to use its credit cards without generating income to cover its expenses.

Five years later, glimpses of hope are on the horizon for the region.

Key Indicators: A (2014) Business Analysis Report: Despite turbulence in the financial system, the Caribbean remains stable. The islands still have a strong business environment, well-educated people, and strong labor force, social and political stability with a stable banking system. It is still a prime place for financial services.

Corruption Indexes: It remains high, but trending in the right direction. According to Business Monitor International Ltd and Transparency International’s 2012, Corruption Perceptions Index: Guyana 133rd place out of 183 countries), the Dominican Republic (119th), and Jamaica (83rd).

Between 2014 and 2018, the increase in real gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to be about 2.5 percent with an inflation rate that will be about 6.4%. There are no quick solutions, as one IMF study noted. Any weak global condition can deteriorate these growth prospects according to the East Caribbean Business Forecast.

The International Monetary Fund’s goal is to lower the debt ratios to GDP of many countries by 2020. For example, Jamaica’s debt-to-GDP ratio is about 130 percent, and the IMF is working that it can reach about 96 percent by 2020. While some of the region’s regressive tax system made modest adjustments to attract more investments. Although Moody has lowered some of their credit ratings in the region due to lukewarm economic activities, and rising debts, recent reports have shown some revisions.

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Concerning the IMF, it has a love and hate relationship in the region like a logistic regression analysis that is always predictable. IMF operates like the drug dealer next door. It continues to supply goods knowing they are serious problems. IMF should make sure rehabilitation and holding most of these countries on leash with tremendous debts will not change anytime soon. What happen to debt forgiveness?

On the other side, drug trafficking through the area remains an issue as a main hub to US, Europe, and Canada, including safety and crimes that have stymied investments.

Are We There: As the region throttles ahead, it is still subjected to significant economic risks, low credit ratings, high crime, poor infrastructure, and unemployment remains high.

dog leashEven people, who are gainfully employed, are still having difficulties in the recovery. Wages remains stagnant, several young people are still out of work and buried in student loans. The main solution in reversing poverty is an education. However, tuition costs often make it just an idea to develop the talent pools needed to become a practical job candidate in the new world.

Manufacturing and start-up businesses are very difficult to sustain. Moreover, where few jobs are located, the cost of living is extremely high. This also makes it difficult for teachers, police officers, and private employees to find affordable homes.

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF praised the UK’s recovery, but warned of increasing house prices according to The Telegraph. Today there are questions being raised if the US and the United Kingdom are becoming too reliant on real estate and the same is clear in the Caribbean region.

outp ricedIt is time the leaders balance values with profits.

Government and private businesses have to collaborate. They cannot ignore the local residents. They are the long-term driving force in the economy. These leaders must find a way of recreating and connecting locally, and rebuilding a system that balances personal fulfillment and a sense of community.

If local exclusion continues, many will become emotionally disconnected. Furthermore, racial and economic division and polarization will take decades to reverse and that is far worse than the lack of jobs.

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Some of the economic developments in the region can be good. However, some recent reports have suggested that many have created conflicts when residents are being priced and routed out of some areas. Some local residents no longer have free access to beaches. They are being locked out in the name of development.

It is gentrification disguised as investments. Sadly, and as troubling as this paradigm shift has been, the Caribbean is not alone.

Too often homes and residential lots for sale remain stagnant for years. There seems to be a lack of incentive to help local farmers, as imports have taken over locally produced products. The stories are endless of only a few can afford to be approved for low interest loans to make an investment in a new home, or start a small business.

This only widens the divide between the haves and the have-nots. Home ownership not only creates pride, and a good investment, it supports local goods and services. For example, the local hardware, grocery and repair stores will benefit tremendously. In the end, it creates more employment and wealth across the board.

Often massive marketing campaigns target returning residents. Nothing is wrong in maximizing one’s return on investment in a capitalistic society, but equally important one has to realize that economic activities from returning residents often generate far less than the local residents.

The future looks bright in the region; however, it must revisit an attitude of taking care of people, the community, and their values as the new world emerges.

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