EDITORIAL: Brazil paying dearly for soccer honors

Brasilia gets a tutorial in the economics of the World Cup

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Soccer doesn’t get much attention in America. There’s no room for it. It’s a very big deal for the rest of the world, and this week Brazil is host to the World Cup. For the privilege of hosting the most-watched sporting event on the planet (the World Series and the Super Bowl is enough for the planet called America), Brazil is paying dearly.

This wasn’t supposed to be so. When Brazil won the tournament rights seven years ago, the government officials pledged that building and upgrading the 12 stadiums needed would only cost $1 billion, entirely covered by private money. By the time the venues were actually finished, the price had ballooned to $15 billion. Paid by the taxpayers, naturally.

Brasilia’s 71,000-seat stadium, for example, is now the second-most expensive stadium in the world, thanks to cost “overruns” abetted by politicians looking the other way when the bills were submitted. Brasilia has no professional team of its own, so the stadium won’t be of much use after the World Cup concludes in July.

Brazilians are paying higher subway and bus fares to subsidize construction costs, and the sting is felt particularly by the poor, and there are a lot of them. A plan to increase taxes on beer and soda pop has been delayed until after the World Cup. The powers that be realized that visitors might buy fewer bottles of beer and pop during the games.

Brazil loves soccer, but a Pew Research poll found that 6 in 10 Brazilians aren’t so infatuated with the idea of hosting the World Cup. Protesters have taken to the street to scream their opposition to the spending and tax increases for both the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Though its economy is growing, Brazil remains a poor nation, and the soccer extravaganza illustrates the nation’s struggle with economic corruption. A famous Brazilian street artist sums it up with an image that has gone viral on the Internet. It shows a hungry child sitting with silverware in hand, waiting for dinner, who begins to cry when the dinner plate arrives bearing only a soccer ball.

Expensive international sporting events promise big economic gains, but these are rarely more than a spike in visitor numbers. The brief revenue boost usually isn’t enough to pay for the extra security, infrastructure and construction. The promised long-term gain is an illusion.

That’s the lesson America should draw as the World Cup ramps up in the weeks ahead. Despite the fondest dreams of the U.S. Soccer Federation that bringing the 2026 World Cup to America will spark the nation’s interest in the international game, it’s an expensive luxury most Americans don’t want.

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