It is time for global sports to truly own up to the social responsibility their organizations have to the countries and cities in which they operate. The protests in Brazil -- over one million in the streets in recent days, according to conservative police estimates -- highlight the enormous gap between the expectations of the people and the lucrative business of globalized sports aided by government policies that enable these multinational organizations to skew country economies to benefit their particular spectacle.
FIFA is in the spotlight now with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the estimated €13 billion being invested in stadiums and infrastructure for the event. But all globalized sports need to acquire a social conscience and be required by governments to set aside a percentage of their profits to offset the social costs of their activities -- including direct impacts, education, health and services needs -- and not only for self-serving measures.
FIFA and the Brazilian Government responded to the Brazilian people's criticism in the street with a press conference that lays bare FIFA's embryonic sense of social responsibility, featuring measures that will enhance FIFA's future activities. Brazilian Government representatives gushingly complied with FIFA's approach. To quote from the FIFA press release:
"It began at Germany 2006, was continued at South Africa 2010 and we will carry it forward in Brazil," said Federico Addiechi, FIFA's Head of Corporate Social Responsibility. "Together we have developed strategies and we will work with dozens of organizations across the whole country. We want to involve the entire community."
"In the run-up to FIFA's flagship tournament next year, guidelines have been drawn up on the topics of ecological construction, waste management, volunteer training, community support, climate change, basic and further education and reporting. "There are a lot of activities," Addiechi continued. "For example, next week we have a Football for Hope forum and numerous other events besides that. We want it to be a World Cup for everyone. There are a lot of projects on renewable energy in order to produce clean energy. The FIFA World Cup has an enormous effect on society. We should take advantage of that."
The CEO of Brazil's Local Organizing Committee, Ricardo Trade, touted that they will be using volunteers (sic) to separate waste from the stadiums, after the games. "We have specially trained volunteers who are responsible for waste separation. We have eight million tons of recyclable waste per game per stadium."
Government representatives, Sergio Margulis, Advisor to Brazil's Environment Ministry, and Luis Fernandes, Brazil's Executive Secretary of the Ministry of Sports, emphasized sustainability and earning FIFA's approval for its timid social activities. "We are proud to say that in that respect we are an international reference point for FIFA."
The effects of an international sporting event show their sharp end with the abolition of living spaces for the usually disadvantaged, who are abruptly dislocated by governments to make room for the new stadium, the new track, the new sports complex and their supporting infrastructure. Sports developments may well benefit a society over the long run, but the manner in which they are carried out today in many countries disproportionately impacts the poor and powerless. Sports have a special obligation to create the greatest good for everyone.
FIFA and the Brazilian Football Association still have time to correct their social crassness by being more transparent about the economics of the World Cup in Brazil and committing to donating a percentage of the profits to social projects negotiated with the national Government and with the cities in which the games take place. Brazil's Government should take the initiative.
Beyond FIFA, it is time for all globalized sports, including the International Olympic Committee, the NFL, the NBA, Formula 1, and the International Cricket Council, to adopt a Code of Social Responsibility that reflects and alleviates the social costs of the circuses they organize.
The economic tools to identify and assess the costs and benefits of international sports events already exist. Twenty years ago the UN World Tourism Organization developed a Satellite Account for Tourism. It aggregates the direct and indirect economic impacts of tourism and is widely used by governments to understand the effects of tourism in society. The Satellite Account methodology could be adapted to measure the economic impacts of major international sporting events. Governments need to take the first step. The urgent task then is to oblige international sports organizations to take responsibility for the full social costs and benefits of their activities in countries and cities.