FIFA, the World Cup and Social Harm: Examining the Cost of Football Fever

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With the FIFA World Cup starting this week, hundreds of thousands of people will be attending matches in Brazil, watching games at bars, pubs, and at home, celebrating and commiserating as teams make their bid for victory. Propagated as an event that should be celebrated for uniting people globally, little attention is paid to the corporate exploitation, social harms, and violence that are impacted on the host country.

Consider that Brazil, a country with people renowned for their love of football (or soccer if you are in the US) have experienced social protests, public demonstrations, and strikes that have led to confrontations with riot police and deaths, in an effort to call attention to the financial inequities that surround the games (Watts 2014). The Brazilian government has spent approximately $11 billion USD in public funds in preparation for the games, including building and refurbishing 12 stadiums that cost $3.6 billion USD alone.

Stated more directly, when factoring in the cost of stadiums and infrastructural developments, estimates indicate that each of the 64 matches will cost Brazil approximately $62 million USD. Not only has the rapid construction of these new stadiums, driven by FIFA, led to the deaths of nine construction workers, but the funds used have been diverted away from other public programs, with the government making cuts that have disproportionately impacted the poor and working class citizens of Brazil (Beydoun 2014).

Adding to the frustrations of the Brazilian people, there is little hope that Brazil will recoup any of these expenses, as demonstrated in South Africa the sight of the last tournament, where they recovered a mere 10 percent of the 3 billion British pounds they invested in the event. Adding insult to injury, locally based companies reported no financial benefit from South Africa hosting the event (Neate 2010).

Those that do benefit however, are the multinational corporate sponsors of the event, such as Adidas, Coca-Cola, Sony, and Visa (Wilson 2014). These corporations, through financial sponsorship, have bought exclusive rights from FIFA to be the official brands for the 2014 World Cup, diverting a large percentage of the economic benefit away from the host country itself.

These corporations have considerable power globally, both economically and politically. For example, consider that Budweiser, one of the corporate sponsors, has gone as far as to insist that Brazil change a domestic law that has criminalized the sale of alcohol in football stadiums since 2003 (BBC News 2012). The law had been enacted in efforts to prevent football related violence and hooliganism. Despite this, and to ensure Budweiser products can be sold during the 2014 tournament, FIFA pressured Brazil into passing a new bill into law, lifting the alcohol ban (BBC News 2012).

Further resentment has arisen due to the Brazilian government’s attempts to “pacify” problems of security in Brazil’s favelas, with the police using brutally violent tactics that include extrajudicial killings (Watts 2013). Amarildo de Souza was tortured and killed by ten police officers, who during a police interrogation put a plastic bag over his head and shocked him with electricity. Souza had been on his way to buy dinner for his wife and six children when he had been detained in a police sweep for possible drug traffickers (Watts 2013). Although, there has been an investigation into Souza’s death, he is one of many individuals who have paid the ultimate price as police “secure” the favelas in preparations for the tournament.

Additionally, a large number of favela residents have been displaced from coveted communities to make way for the infrastructure necessary to host the World Cup. Many families have been removed from their homes with very short notice, with no adequate process in place to ensure they are properly relocated. The state’s displacement of these families and their subsequent treatment has been so poor that it has resulted in condemnation from the United Nations (Sullivan 2014).

The behaviors of FIFA, corporate sponsors, and the state of Brazil, are not new. Large-scale social harms committed by states, international organizations, and corporate interests have long been documented by activists, media, and scholars alike. The difference here is that the behaviors of FIFA and their sponsors are lost behind the glamor, excitement, and global support for an international sporting event that is celebrated worldwide. Forgotten are the harms suffered disproportionately by individuals situated in the lower classes of a globally stratified society, as it is the impoverished individuals that suffer these harms so that the affluent (both nationally and globally) can attend matches, consume merchandise, and celebrate their love of football.

These large-scale social and economic harms resulting from the behaviors of FIFA and its sponsors can be conceptualized as crimes of globalization (Friedrichs and Friedrichs 2002). Importantly, those who perpetrate this type of crime do not intend to cause the massive harms that result, rather their actions are reflective of state and corporate interests where the expansion of global capital is given priority over the interests of people.

As a result massive harms develop because of cooperation between multinational corporations, and “state or political entities that engage in demonstrably harmful activities in violation of international law, or international human rights conventions” (Friedrichs 2004). Here, these powerful organizations, including the state of Brazil, have engaged in criminal behaviors such as murder, forced-displacement, and white collar crime that have had a detrimental impact on many of the people of Brazil, harms that are a direct result from the interconnectedness of the collaborative pursuit of the same goal: i.e. global capital (Friedrichs 2010).

I am not proposing a boycott of the event, although some people may wish to do so, but what I am suggesting is acknowledging the harms that have occurred. As the matches kick-off, I encourage those who are avid fans to spare a few minutes of thought to the losses that many people have suffered so as the world can enjoy the entertainment of football, and more importantly, perhaps engage in some in-depth conversations about the criminogenic nature of the powerful organizations, and corporate interests that continue to exploit, profit, and harm in the name of sport.

Victoria Ellen Collins, PhD
Assistant Professor, School of Justice Studies
Eastern Kentucky University

I myself am an avid football fan – soccer if you are from the US – and scholar of state and corporate crime. I therefore found myself compelled to write this short blog, but also find myself conflicted about the World Cup, an event I usually blindly enjoy.


BBC News. (2012, June 6). Brazil World Cup beer law signed by President Rousseff. BBC News Latin American and Caribbean. Online:

Beydoun, K.A. (2014, May 28). Beyond samba, sex, and soccer: The Word Cup riots in Brazil. Aljazeera. Online:

Friedrichs, D.O. (2004). White-Collar Crime in a Globalized World. Presentation at Western Michigan University

Friedrichs, D.O. (2010). Trusted Criminals: White-collar crime in contemporary society, 4th edition. Belmont, CA: Cengage.

Friedrichs, D.O., & Friedrichs, J. (2002). The World Bank and crimes of globalization: A case study. Social Justice 29(1-2): 1-12.

Neate, R. (2010, December 10). South Africa recoups just a tenth of the 3 billion [British pounds] cost of staging World Cup 2010. The Telegraph. Online:

Sullivan, Z. (2013, January 8). World Cup preparation means eviction for several Brazilian residents. Aljazeera America. Online:

Watts, J. (2013, October 2). Brazil: Rio police charged over torture and death of missing favela man. The Guardian. Online:

Watts, K. (2014, June 6). Brazil: Clashes in Sao Paulo strikes ahead of World Cup. BBC News Latin America and Caribbean. Online:

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