Lights, Cameras, Activism…the grim reality behind global sporting spectacles




Tomorrow, sports fans around the globe will fix their eager gaze upon Brazil, as the FIFA 2014 World Cup kicks off in a long-awaited and joyous explosion of glitz, glamour, patriotism, and hopefully thrilling athleticism. Among the face-painted throngs of backslapping fans, beer will be chugged, comraderies solidified, and passionate rivalries rekindled.

At their best, sporting events of this magnitude embody and celebrate the nobler characteristics of modern human co-existence… Ethics and fair play. Mutual respect. Solidarity and teamwork.

At their worst, these events expose an uglier side of humanity and the forces that govern. We witnessed it at the Sochi & Beijing Olympics, we are increasingly witnessing it in Qatar, and now Brazil is succumbing to the same unfortunate narrative.

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A climate of fear, repression and brutality has emerged in Brazil as authorities prove they will stop at nothing to ensure that FIFA’s festivities go off unhindered.

The Government’s $11b expenditure on hosting the World Cup motivated hundreds of thousands of people to take to the streets in protest of their leaders’ questionable priorities. Citizens have demanded solutions to a number of Brazil’s existing civil and social issues, including inadequate public services and transportation, forced evictions, and widespread crime.

The retaliation of Brazilian authorities has been anything but ‘fair play’.

Last week, Amnesty International released a report highlighting that thousands of peaceful protesters are falling victim to violent forms of repression. Military units have shot tear gas at demonstrators without hesitation, reportedly even inside a hospital. Rubber bullets have been fired into large crowds with reckless disregard for civilian safety, causing severe and lasting injuries. Men and women have been viciously beaten by police with batons, sometimes simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

To date, there is no evidence that any military personnel or police officers have faced disciplinary measures for this obvious and excessive brutality.

Worse still, a proposal for new counter-terrorism laws is currently being discussed by Brazil’s Congress. If passed, the bill could see activists and political demonstrators swept under its broad definition of terrorism, allowing even greater impunity for police and military forces.

For now, the onus lies with the Brazilian government to reverse these draconian measures and protect their people, both during the World Cup and beyond.

Instead of passing stricter laws which repress and punish dissent, Brazil needs to develop a properly trained security force which is capable of policing demonstrations cleanly and in accordance with international human rights standards.

Better systems of accountability are also urgently required so that those overstepping the boundaries of their authority can be brought to justice.

However, there are important lessons for FIFA to take home from this debacle too.

Brazil’s escalating violence has added yet another crimson stain to the association’s already bloodied hands.

In Qatar, hundreds of migrant workers have been exploited in the early preparations for the hosting of FIFA’s 2022 World Cup, with reports that some have even lost their lives. An Amnesty International investigation released in late 2013 has provided a shocking insight into these human rights abuses, which are set to rise exponentially with FIFA bolstering the country’s construction sector. There are fears there that the death toll could reach thousands before the actual event begins.

I believe FIFA, the IOC and all sporting bodies have a clear humanitarian obligation to speak up, voice loud and consistent objections to violations of workers’ rights, repression of dissent, and demand positive change in countries they choose to host global sporting fixtures.

More importantly still, international sporting bodies such as FIFA need to ensure that for future events host countries meet a much stricter set of criteria which will guarantee the protection of all human rights. Their governing bodies must do everything they can to assess participating countries and the ramifications that could arise from these selections.

For spectators worldwide, the upcoming weeks promise to deliver some truly brilliant and breath-taking sporting moments. I hope that one day everyone involved can enjoy these games with a clear conscience, but until then we should not just be screaming for our favourite players.

Instead, each and every fan should be demanding that FIFA and its host countries start making human rights an immediate priority. Until things change, and change drastically, we are all desperately needed on the same team.

Take action: Give the Brazilian Government a Yellow Card:


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Caitlin Sisley, Media & Publications Intern, Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand


  1. Brazil is probably the home of the greatest football players of all time, for their soccer mad citizens to be protesting the hosting of this world event shows how out of touch their government must be.

  2. Meanwhile, in Christchurch – we MUST have a stadium. And pay bennies a bonus if they relocate to the city of the mists and the floods. We are not less than Qatar, are we?

    If FIFA wants to spread itself around it can pay countries to host its games.

    Smart engineering folk can create demountable stadia, lots of specialised shipping containers, and an international labour force, paid well, to put the things up/take them down, leaving no white elephants to suck up the unfortunate host cities’ funds on maintenance, or become decrepit wrecks and squats for desperate folk.

    But no.

    And those of us who are not interested in ball games, can’t afford the time or money to indulge, have more important things to do – we get to pay, too. Some people even get to lose their working age kids, homes, livelihoods and pets for the flush in the pan event. (Not a typo.) Meh.

  3. It is quite astounding how in a football mad national like Brazil there are so many people who think hosting the World Cup is a bad idea. It would be like kiwis turning down the chance to host the rugby world cup. I think the 11 billion dollar figure is actually a bit conservative, I have seen figures bandied around that suggest the real cost is about double that. Whatever the real figure the money spent on global sporting events like the Olympics is quite obscene and it gets worse every four years as the hosts strive to make each games a bigger spectacle (and more expensive) than the last. When will it stop?

  4. Perhaps we should promote the World Track and Field Champs as the “real” Olympics. The WTFC serve the same purpose as the Olympics (bring the best sportspeople together) without the hype, showbiz and massive over expenditure of the Olympics.

  5. We have our very own “world cup” scenario in the form of Team NZ. To watch Grant Dalton pleading for tax payers money so that he can continue to fund eye watering salaries sickening.
    How do these people – many of whom are millionaires with property portfolio’s that could fund Team NZ many times over – have the gall to say they will give up if they don’t get government funding?
    This is the exactly the level of grit, determination and fighting spirit you’d expect from a team that lost the last Americas cup by 8 to 1.

  6. NOTHING has changed since the days of the rotten, suppressive Roman Empire. They had their well and not so well paid slaves and servants, and they sent them to fight it out at the Colosseum and other stadiums, and masses gathered to cheer them on.

    We have the same nowadays, nothing has changed, humans are prone to be corrupted, and manipulated, and to get their “worth” for the money they spend, and so it is with soccer, the Olympics and any similar events, yes the Rugby played tonight in Dunedin, last week at Eden Park, and the many football games played all over the world.

    Frustrated from a week of work, tired of family and social and economic stress, they flood into the stadiums, or spend time in front of the home “box”, to follow the “excitement”, and they give in to excitement and passion.

    Primitive, basic instincts come to live, and it is all on. All else is forgotten, and beers may be consumed also, hooray, we are all heroes and being counted again they think.

    In reality they are players in the game, pawns and worse, and they do not see it, the powerful elites love such circus events, as it distracts and keeps people happy, just for a moment.

    Never mind, part of it all is to keep the ones in check, the over excited and the ones disapproving of all, and that is happening in Brazil, it is happening every week in most countries, at varying degrees.

    So people can only learn by reading history, talking, writing, exchanging and taking action, and then unified action, or else it is all just wasted yet again.

    To change all this, the only way is to wake enough up to take the action, and to seize the moment, to take to the streets, to occupy, to overthrow and take charge of their own future.

    Now who here has the courage, I ask?

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