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Heading to Brazil For The World Cup? Here’s Our Guide to the 12 Host Cities

Heading to Brazil For The World Cup? Here’s Our Guide to the 12 Host Cities

With less than 30 days to go before the World Cup kicks off, host country Brazil is in serious party-prep mode: sweeping up the shavings on new stadium construction, rigging up huge screens on the beach for public viewing parties, and preparing to welcome millions of visitors from around the world. Surprise, surprise though, while the US might not be as crazy about soccer (AKA futbol) as other countries, it was still the No. 1 ticket-purchaser as of April 11.

For ticket-holders, jetsetters who might jaunt down there just for the party, and those who are currently wondering what’s in Brazil besides rainforests, here’s a quick rundown of the 12 Brazilian cities proudly hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup (in alphabetical order).

With less than 30 days to go before the World Cup kicks off, host country Brazil is in serious party-prep mode: sweeping up the shavings on new stadium construction, rigging up huge screens on the beach for public viewing parties, and preparing to welcome millions of visitors from around the world. 1 ticket-purchaser as of April 11.

For ticket-holders, jetsetters who might jaunt down there just for the party, and those who are currently wondering what’s in Brazil besides rainforests, here’s a quick rundown of the 12 Brazilian cities proudly hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup (in alphabetical order).

Photo Courtesy of VisitBrasil.com

Belo Horizonte

The city name translates to “Beautiful Horizon,” and its unofficial nickname, “The Bar Capital,” is just as appealing for entirely different reasons. Located in Southeastern Brazil, this is one of the country’s less-discovered cities.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: It’s pretty clear, thanks to its moniker: Sip, schmooze, flirt, and on to the next bar. With some 14,000 bars in the city, visitors can venue-hop all day and night and never get to all of them. Bonus: Belo Horizonte specializes in pub food (comida de buteco) to complement its boozy lifestyle.

Photo Courtesy of VisitBrasil.com

Brasilia

The capital city of Brazil, located in the center of the nation and built specifically to be its capital, was constructed over the course of 41 months (1956-1960). Architect Oscar Niemeyer designed so many buildings, the city styles itself as Niemeyer’s Playground. Probably in large part due to this, it’s already a UNESCO World Heritage Site in spite of being less than 60 years old.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: Tour the Niemeyer buildings, including the Square of Three Powers and Ministry of Justice.

Photo Courtesy of VisitBrasil.com

Cuiaba

Surrounded by a triad of ecosystems—the Pantanal wetlands, the Amazon, and the Cerrado savannahs third—this city is a nature-lover’s beacon. The Pantanal is referred to as a less-trafficked Galapagos by those in the know.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: If you can get a space on one of the boats licensed to cruise the Pantanal, it will be an unforgettable life experience. Otherwise, there are canyons, swimmable waterfalls and hikes ranging easy to advanced and all at parks just a few miles from the city limits.

Photo Courtesy of VisitBrasil.com

Curitiba

This city is proud to wave the banner for sustainable living, containing approximately 30 urban parks and forests. This is its second time hosting a World Cup, the first was in 1950. It built an entirely new stadium for the 2014 games, which is noted as one of the most modern in Brazil.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: If you’ve got three days or more for an excursion, visit Iguaçu Falls, a New 7 Wonder of Nature. It is approximately 400 miles from the city, at the conjunction of Brazil’s border with Argentina and Paraguay. With less free time, visitors can explore the urban parks, the Botanical Gardens and the historic city center.

Photo Courtesy of VisitBrasil.com

Fortaleza

A bustling beach city in the northeast of Brazil, Fortaleza is considered “the Sun Country” on two accounts: It claims to get more sunshine than other Brazilian cities, and is said to have extremely sunny-spirited locals.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: This city is big on day life, meaning, parties, club-action and lots of music in broad daylight and bathing suit dress codes set against a beach backdrop. With many beaches including “The Beach of the Future” which measures 15.5 miles long, there’s plenty of space for those day parties…and if you’ve got the stamina, they can go all night too.

Photo Courtesy of VisitBrasil.com

Manaus

The hub city of the Amazon, Manaus flies under the radar of US citizens, but has always been a South American commercial center. There was a time when Manaus was the richest city in Brazil, and it’s still one of the largest, surrounded on all sides by jungle and wetlands. The bird’s eye views are surreal.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: Amazon adventures start right at the outskirts of the city. Eco-adventures include exotic animals viewing, guided hikes, small boat tours, swimming with pink dolphins and piranha fishing. There’s also a beach fronting a river that runs directly through the city, locals swim in it regardless of piranhas.

Photo Courtesy of VisitBrasil.com

Natal

A laid-back beach destination characterized by its rolling sand dunes, Natal will definitely factor onto North American soccer fans’ radar in the next few weeks because it’s hosting a US game. During World War II there was an American base in Natal, and even to this day, US visitors will discover some pleasant cultural crossover.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: Some of the dunes are ideal for sand boarding—sitting on a board and sliding down the dune—all the way down to a splash landing in the lagoon. Dune buggies and (randomly) camel rides are also available. If you just want to relax, there’s pristine beach as far as the eye can see.

Photo Courtesy of VisitBrasil.com

Porto Alegre

Porto Alegre is the capital city of Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sur and borders Uruguay and Argentina. As a result of the strong German immigrant influence dating from the early 1900s, the area is known for its beer, meat-and-potatoes, bar culture and supermodel-looking citizens.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: By day, go visit the wine country 70 miles away, tour chocolate factories, or sail on Lake Guaiba. By night, enjoy the city’s excellent German-style beer and gawk at models and gauchos (Brazilian cowboys).

Photo Courtesy of VisitBrasil.com

Recife

In the northeast of Brazil, Reciife was nicknamed the “Venice of Brazil” by Frenchman Albert Camus when he visited in 1949. Throughout June, it hosts one of the biggest annual festivals in the country named Festa Junina and honors the city’s patron saint.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: Known for its rich marine life and clear, pristine waters just offshore, Recife is wonderful for scuba diving and snorkeling. On the flip side, Recife is also known for its museums and haunted houses.

Photo Courtesy of VisitBrasil.com

Rio de Janeiro

The most famous of Brazil’s host cities, all games in Rio de Janeiro are sold out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still go and have a great time because Rio is tops on everyone’s list of where to go for an epic party. There will be places showing the games all over town, from the beaches to Sugarloaf Mountain.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: Shop, club-hop and dine in Lapa, Ipanema and Copacabana. Journey to the top of Sugarloaf to visit Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue or embrace your Brazilian side by strutting down the beach in nothing but a tiny Speedo and a pair of Havaianas.

Photo Courtesy of VisitBrasil.com

Salvador

Salvador is the capital city of Bahia, which is probably Brazil’s best-known beach destination after Rio de Janeiro. This city is known for distinctive African influence in its cuisine, culture, clothing and spirituality. This is the birthplace of Capoeira and axé (pronounced ah-chay) music. Bahia works on its very own time definition, which is slooooow and un-stressed to the max.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: Watch a local Capoeira troupe practicing their distinctive dance-martial art in a circle outside while playing traditional instruments. Take your pick of great beaches, depending what you like to do: surf, sail, swim, or ride a bike. Culinary adventures can also be a big part of a visit here, especially if you love spicy street fare and fresh seafood.

São Paulo

The largest city in Latin America, São Paulo is the financial hub of Brazil, and one of the biggest international business tourism destinations in the world. Crowded, fast-paced and sophisticated, this is the perfect city to host the opening matches of the 2014 World Cup.

What To Do Outside the Stadium: Tickets are sold out, so if you don’t have them, look for big screen viewing parties in prominent bars and parks, or hit up the official FIFA Fan Fest in Anhangabaú Valley park. Also while in the city, a late night at a samba club and an unforgettable rodizio (all-you-can-eat steakhouse) meal are two must-dos.


A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

Sam Brodey

FIFA President Sepp Blatter Alessandro Della Bella/AP

When the FIFA World Cup opens today in Sao Paulo, the eyes of the world will be glued to the action on the field—but recent developments off the pitch are threatening to steal the spotlight. From the news of strikes and protests coming out of Brazil to the shadiness surrounding the awarding of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, it’s difficult to keep all of the scandals straight. But fear not: Check this cheat sheet to get a sense of the off-field stories that’ll be dominating conversations for the next month.

Brazilians are really, really mad. Over the course of the past few years, Brazilians have grown outraged at the government’s handling of the World Cup. Even in this soccer-obsessed country, people are deeply resentful of the government’s decision to spend as much as $14 billion on the Cup while millions of its citizens lack basic services—services the government promised to improve ahead of the Cup. On top of that, at least nine workers have been killed in accidents related to rushed World Cup construction projects activists are alleging that more than 250,000 people faced eviction threats to accommodate Cup construction and preparations and the presence of brand-new Cup buildings has raised rent in working-class neighborhoods, pricing longtime residents out.

The streets of Brazil’s major cities have become chaotic battle zones. Tens of thousands, from the homeless to workers, have poured into the streets over the past few months to protest the government’s handling of the Cup and riot police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A series of strikes by public-sector workers demanding higher wages has paralyzed Brazil’s largest cities, bringing yet more protesters and police into the streets. Subway workers are the latest to strike, inspired by previously successful efforts by bus drivers and federal police, who threatened to strike. On Tuesday, subway employees went back to work after five days of striking, but threatened to resume the strike pending a vote (Update, 1:28 ET: no subway strike, but Rio de Janeiro airport workers have begun a 24-hour stoppage). Sao Paulo, host of Thursday’s opener, is famous for its hundred–mile traffic jams, but strikes last week brought the city to a near stand–still. A scrimmage between the US and Belgium, planned for today, was called off due to the gridlock. As thousands of visitors descend on the city, another strike has the potential to disrupt official World Cup events.

And the stadiums, airports, and transport systems aren’t even finished. Although World Cup action starts today, and an estimated 600,000 visitors have begun to descend on Brazil, up–to–date reports indicate that the infrastructure still isn’t ready. Here’s a brief list of what remains unfinished:

  • The stadiums. Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, which will host today’s opener between Brazil and Croatia, was supposed to be completed last year. But the roof is unfinished, and 20,000 fans will sit in seats that the Daily Mail alleged wouldn’t pass a UK safety test. In Manaus, deep in the Amazon, the stadium remains unfinished and the field is in horrible shape ahead of Saturday’s game there.
  • The airports. Several airports around Brazil are still not ready to handle the thousands of flights that’ll come in and out over the next weeks. In Manaus, workers, scaffolding, and machinery are everywhere. In Belo Horizonte, there are muddy sidewalks, an unfinished food court and dust everywhere. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo found that the airports of Brasilia and Sao Paulo were the only ones ready to handle the traffic.
  • The transit. In selling the Cup to the people, Brazilian officials promised 35 new rail projects—today, just five are complete. Visitors may have to resort to overcrowded roads to get to games. The rushed and haphazard construction of transit projects has also had an enormous human cost: on Monday, a worker was killed while working on Sao Paulo’s monorail. The still–unfinished prestige project was supposed to have been completed well before the Cup.

Across the board, it’s a mess of bad PR for Brazil, and Brazilians are worried that their country’s time in the world’s spotlight could become a historic embarrassment. President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings have slid to 34 percent, and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that the success of this World Cup—even the on-field success of the Brazilian team—could influence her impending re-election campaign.

Bribery, corruption, and worker abuse have reached a boiling point in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host. The world was shocked when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Of course, there’s the weather: the Persian Gulf state suffers temperatures well north of 100 degrees—sometimes over 120—in the World Cup months of June and July. And there’s the fact that the tiny, oil-rich nation has little soccer history or presence on the sport’s international stage: It’s never sent a team to the Cup to compete.

Turns out, there may have been more suspicious factors behind FIFA’s bizarre decision. The British press have alleged that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid off FIFA officials in order to secure their votes to bring the Cup to his country. Emails obtained by the Sunday Times suggest that Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia cooperated to help each other win bids, and that bin Hammam used his connections in business and government to bribe officials from Thailand to Germany. If the allegations are true, FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce said he’d push to strip Qatar of the Cup and re-award it to another country.

Another worry, especially for fans, is the cultural conservatism of Qatar. Gay fans have expressed concern about visiting the country, where homosexuality is illegal, and foreigners have been whipped and deported for violation. In 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made headlines by suggesting that gays “should refrain from sexual activity” if they visit Qatar. He quickly apologized.

What could push all this to critical mass is ongoing outrage over Qatar’s mistreatment of the construction workers tasked with building Cup infrastructure. The long hours of hard labor in unbearably hot conditions have proven lethal: It’s estimated that 1,200 workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the Cup. They are almost exclusively migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia and can only leave Qatar with the written permission of their employers—a system some watchers have compared to slavery.

Five of the World Cup’s six top corporate sponsors (including Coca-Cola and Adidas) have voiced concern over corruption and worker abuse allegations, and publicly back formal investigations. Blatter, in a rare off-message moment, admitted that giving Qatar the bid was a “mistake.” Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing on corruption charges and promised to reform labor laws—but clearly, they have a lot more to worry about than air-conditioning their stadiums.

There was match fixing at the 2010 World Cup events in South Africa. While World Cups’ present and future are beset with trouble, the 2010 Cup in South Africa was widely considered a success and a model for future hosts to follow. That legacy may soon be tarnished, if only slightly: Reports have surfaced that pre-cup exhibition matches in South Africa were fixed. A New York Times investigation alleges that powerful gambling interests paid off referees to manipulate the outcomes of certain games. At least five games, and possibly as many as 15, were targeted. While the referees giving out questionable handball calls and yellow cards are clearly to blame, FIFA concluded that some South African soccer officials probably helped to some extent.

If true, this scandal would cast doubt on South Africa’s World Cup legacy. But there are implications for this year’s event, too. It proves that match-fixing—a persistent evil in soccer—is alive and well, and not even the World Cup is immune. Billions are wagered on the Cup worldwide—over $1.6 billion will be wagered in Great Britain alone—and there are powerful interests seeking to manipulate outcomes. FIFA dragged its feet for years on the South Africa investigations, calling into question its ability to prevent match-fixing in Brazil, which officials publicly say is a risk.

A uniting thread in all of these scandals. FIFA looks really, really bad. There’s evidence to argue that the overlords of international soccer are corrupt and incompetent at best, they’re merely incompetent. Between insisting that Brazil and Qatar will be successes as planned and accusing World Cup critics of racism, FIFA looks plain ugly. Not convinced? Watch John Oliver’s brilliant explanation:

So, while the implications of these controversies are big for Qatar and Brazil, they’re big for FIFA, too. Some are arguing to get rid of it altogether. How the upcoming months unfold could determine President Blatter’s viability going forward. A group of prominent European soccer executives have called on the longtime president to step down. For the health and well-being of soccer and the countries that love it, that might not be a horrible thing.

Looking for news you can trust?

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.


A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

Sam Brodey

FIFA President Sepp Blatter Alessandro Della Bella/AP

When the FIFA World Cup opens today in Sao Paulo, the eyes of the world will be glued to the action on the field—but recent developments off the pitch are threatening to steal the spotlight. From the news of strikes and protests coming out of Brazil to the shadiness surrounding the awarding of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, it’s difficult to keep all of the scandals straight. But fear not: Check this cheat sheet to get a sense of the off-field stories that’ll be dominating conversations for the next month.

Brazilians are really, really mad. Over the course of the past few years, Brazilians have grown outraged at the government’s handling of the World Cup. Even in this soccer-obsessed country, people are deeply resentful of the government’s decision to spend as much as $14 billion on the Cup while millions of its citizens lack basic services—services the government promised to improve ahead of the Cup. On top of that, at least nine workers have been killed in accidents related to rushed World Cup construction projects activists are alleging that more than 250,000 people faced eviction threats to accommodate Cup construction and preparations and the presence of brand-new Cup buildings has raised rent in working-class neighborhoods, pricing longtime residents out.

The streets of Brazil’s major cities have become chaotic battle zones. Tens of thousands, from the homeless to workers, have poured into the streets over the past few months to protest the government’s handling of the Cup and riot police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A series of strikes by public-sector workers demanding higher wages has paralyzed Brazil’s largest cities, bringing yet more protesters and police into the streets. Subway workers are the latest to strike, inspired by previously successful efforts by bus drivers and federal police, who threatened to strike. On Tuesday, subway employees went back to work after five days of striking, but threatened to resume the strike pending a vote (Update, 1:28 ET: no subway strike, but Rio de Janeiro airport workers have begun a 24-hour stoppage). Sao Paulo, host of Thursday’s opener, is famous for its hundred–mile traffic jams, but strikes last week brought the city to a near stand–still. A scrimmage between the US and Belgium, planned for today, was called off due to the gridlock. As thousands of visitors descend on the city, another strike has the potential to disrupt official World Cup events.

And the stadiums, airports, and transport systems aren’t even finished. Although World Cup action starts today, and an estimated 600,000 visitors have begun to descend on Brazil, up–to–date reports indicate that the infrastructure still isn’t ready. Here’s a brief list of what remains unfinished:

  • The stadiums. Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, which will host today’s opener between Brazil and Croatia, was supposed to be completed last year. But the roof is unfinished, and 20,000 fans will sit in seats that the Daily Mail alleged wouldn’t pass a UK safety test. In Manaus, deep in the Amazon, the stadium remains unfinished and the field is in horrible shape ahead of Saturday’s game there.
  • The airports. Several airports around Brazil are still not ready to handle the thousands of flights that’ll come in and out over the next weeks. In Manaus, workers, scaffolding, and machinery are everywhere. In Belo Horizonte, there are muddy sidewalks, an unfinished food court and dust everywhere. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo found that the airports of Brasilia and Sao Paulo were the only ones ready to handle the traffic.
  • The transit. In selling the Cup to the people, Brazilian officials promised 35 new rail projects—today, just five are complete. Visitors may have to resort to overcrowded roads to get to games. The rushed and haphazard construction of transit projects has also had an enormous human cost: on Monday, a worker was killed while working on Sao Paulo’s monorail. The still–unfinished prestige project was supposed to have been completed well before the Cup.

Across the board, it’s a mess of bad PR for Brazil, and Brazilians are worried that their country’s time in the world’s spotlight could become a historic embarrassment. President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings have slid to 34 percent, and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that the success of this World Cup—even the on-field success of the Brazilian team—could influence her impending re-election campaign.

Bribery, corruption, and worker abuse have reached a boiling point in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host. The world was shocked when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Of course, there’s the weather: the Persian Gulf state suffers temperatures well north of 100 degrees—sometimes over 120—in the World Cup months of June and July. And there’s the fact that the tiny, oil-rich nation has little soccer history or presence on the sport’s international stage: It’s never sent a team to the Cup to compete.

Turns out, there may have been more suspicious factors behind FIFA’s bizarre decision. The British press have alleged that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid off FIFA officials in order to secure their votes to bring the Cup to his country. Emails obtained by the Sunday Times suggest that Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia cooperated to help each other win bids, and that bin Hammam used his connections in business and government to bribe officials from Thailand to Germany. If the allegations are true, FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce said he’d push to strip Qatar of the Cup and re-award it to another country.

Another worry, especially for fans, is the cultural conservatism of Qatar. Gay fans have expressed concern about visiting the country, where homosexuality is illegal, and foreigners have been whipped and deported for violation. In 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made headlines by suggesting that gays “should refrain from sexual activity” if they visit Qatar. He quickly apologized.

What could push all this to critical mass is ongoing outrage over Qatar’s mistreatment of the construction workers tasked with building Cup infrastructure. The long hours of hard labor in unbearably hot conditions have proven lethal: It’s estimated that 1,200 workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the Cup. They are almost exclusively migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia and can only leave Qatar with the written permission of their employers—a system some watchers have compared to slavery.

Five of the World Cup’s six top corporate sponsors (including Coca-Cola and Adidas) have voiced concern over corruption and worker abuse allegations, and publicly back formal investigations. Blatter, in a rare off-message moment, admitted that giving Qatar the bid was a “mistake.” Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing on corruption charges and promised to reform labor laws—but clearly, they have a lot more to worry about than air-conditioning their stadiums.

There was match fixing at the 2010 World Cup events in South Africa. While World Cups’ present and future are beset with trouble, the 2010 Cup in South Africa was widely considered a success and a model for future hosts to follow. That legacy may soon be tarnished, if only slightly: Reports have surfaced that pre-cup exhibition matches in South Africa were fixed. A New York Times investigation alleges that powerful gambling interests paid off referees to manipulate the outcomes of certain games. At least five games, and possibly as many as 15, were targeted. While the referees giving out questionable handball calls and yellow cards are clearly to blame, FIFA concluded that some South African soccer officials probably helped to some extent.

If true, this scandal would cast doubt on South Africa’s World Cup legacy. But there are implications for this year’s event, too. It proves that match-fixing—a persistent evil in soccer—is alive and well, and not even the World Cup is immune. Billions are wagered on the Cup worldwide—over $1.6 billion will be wagered in Great Britain alone—and there are powerful interests seeking to manipulate outcomes. FIFA dragged its feet for years on the South Africa investigations, calling into question its ability to prevent match-fixing in Brazil, which officials publicly say is a risk.

A uniting thread in all of these scandals. FIFA looks really, really bad. There’s evidence to argue that the overlords of international soccer are corrupt and incompetent at best, they’re merely incompetent. Between insisting that Brazil and Qatar will be successes as planned and accusing World Cup critics of racism, FIFA looks plain ugly. Not convinced? Watch John Oliver’s brilliant explanation:

So, while the implications of these controversies are big for Qatar and Brazil, they’re big for FIFA, too. Some are arguing to get rid of it altogether. How the upcoming months unfold could determine President Blatter’s viability going forward. A group of prominent European soccer executives have called on the longtime president to step down. For the health and well-being of soccer and the countries that love it, that might not be a horrible thing.

Looking for news you can trust?

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.


A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

Sam Brodey

FIFA President Sepp Blatter Alessandro Della Bella/AP

When the FIFA World Cup opens today in Sao Paulo, the eyes of the world will be glued to the action on the field—but recent developments off the pitch are threatening to steal the spotlight. From the news of strikes and protests coming out of Brazil to the shadiness surrounding the awarding of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, it’s difficult to keep all of the scandals straight. But fear not: Check this cheat sheet to get a sense of the off-field stories that’ll be dominating conversations for the next month.

Brazilians are really, really mad. Over the course of the past few years, Brazilians have grown outraged at the government’s handling of the World Cup. Even in this soccer-obsessed country, people are deeply resentful of the government’s decision to spend as much as $14 billion on the Cup while millions of its citizens lack basic services—services the government promised to improve ahead of the Cup. On top of that, at least nine workers have been killed in accidents related to rushed World Cup construction projects activists are alleging that more than 250,000 people faced eviction threats to accommodate Cup construction and preparations and the presence of brand-new Cup buildings has raised rent in working-class neighborhoods, pricing longtime residents out.

The streets of Brazil’s major cities have become chaotic battle zones. Tens of thousands, from the homeless to workers, have poured into the streets over the past few months to protest the government’s handling of the Cup and riot police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A series of strikes by public-sector workers demanding higher wages has paralyzed Brazil’s largest cities, bringing yet more protesters and police into the streets. Subway workers are the latest to strike, inspired by previously successful efforts by bus drivers and federal police, who threatened to strike. On Tuesday, subway employees went back to work after five days of striking, but threatened to resume the strike pending a vote (Update, 1:28 ET: no subway strike, but Rio de Janeiro airport workers have begun a 24-hour stoppage). Sao Paulo, host of Thursday’s opener, is famous for its hundred–mile traffic jams, but strikes last week brought the city to a near stand–still. A scrimmage between the US and Belgium, planned for today, was called off due to the gridlock. As thousands of visitors descend on the city, another strike has the potential to disrupt official World Cup events.

And the stadiums, airports, and transport systems aren’t even finished. Although World Cup action starts today, and an estimated 600,000 visitors have begun to descend on Brazil, up–to–date reports indicate that the infrastructure still isn’t ready. Here’s a brief list of what remains unfinished:

  • The stadiums. Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, which will host today’s opener between Brazil and Croatia, was supposed to be completed last year. But the roof is unfinished, and 20,000 fans will sit in seats that the Daily Mail alleged wouldn’t pass a UK safety test. In Manaus, deep in the Amazon, the stadium remains unfinished and the field is in horrible shape ahead of Saturday’s game there.
  • The airports. Several airports around Brazil are still not ready to handle the thousands of flights that’ll come in and out over the next weeks. In Manaus, workers, scaffolding, and machinery are everywhere. In Belo Horizonte, there are muddy sidewalks, an unfinished food court and dust everywhere. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo found that the airports of Brasilia and Sao Paulo were the only ones ready to handle the traffic.
  • The transit. In selling the Cup to the people, Brazilian officials promised 35 new rail projects—today, just five are complete. Visitors may have to resort to overcrowded roads to get to games. The rushed and haphazard construction of transit projects has also had an enormous human cost: on Monday, a worker was killed while working on Sao Paulo’s monorail. The still–unfinished prestige project was supposed to have been completed well before the Cup.

Across the board, it’s a mess of bad PR for Brazil, and Brazilians are worried that their country’s time in the world’s spotlight could become a historic embarrassment. President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings have slid to 34 percent, and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that the success of this World Cup—even the on-field success of the Brazilian team—could influence her impending re-election campaign.

Bribery, corruption, and worker abuse have reached a boiling point in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host. The world was shocked when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Of course, there’s the weather: the Persian Gulf state suffers temperatures well north of 100 degrees—sometimes over 120—in the World Cup months of June and July. And there’s the fact that the tiny, oil-rich nation has little soccer history or presence on the sport’s international stage: It’s never sent a team to the Cup to compete.

Turns out, there may have been more suspicious factors behind FIFA’s bizarre decision. The British press have alleged that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid off FIFA officials in order to secure their votes to bring the Cup to his country. Emails obtained by the Sunday Times suggest that Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia cooperated to help each other win bids, and that bin Hammam used his connections in business and government to bribe officials from Thailand to Germany. If the allegations are true, FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce said he’d push to strip Qatar of the Cup and re-award it to another country.

Another worry, especially for fans, is the cultural conservatism of Qatar. Gay fans have expressed concern about visiting the country, where homosexuality is illegal, and foreigners have been whipped and deported for violation. In 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made headlines by suggesting that gays “should refrain from sexual activity” if they visit Qatar. He quickly apologized.

What could push all this to critical mass is ongoing outrage over Qatar’s mistreatment of the construction workers tasked with building Cup infrastructure. The long hours of hard labor in unbearably hot conditions have proven lethal: It’s estimated that 1,200 workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the Cup. They are almost exclusively migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia and can only leave Qatar with the written permission of their employers—a system some watchers have compared to slavery.

Five of the World Cup’s six top corporate sponsors (including Coca-Cola and Adidas) have voiced concern over corruption and worker abuse allegations, and publicly back formal investigations. Blatter, in a rare off-message moment, admitted that giving Qatar the bid was a “mistake.” Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing on corruption charges and promised to reform labor laws—but clearly, they have a lot more to worry about than air-conditioning their stadiums.

There was match fixing at the 2010 World Cup events in South Africa. While World Cups’ present and future are beset with trouble, the 2010 Cup in South Africa was widely considered a success and a model for future hosts to follow. That legacy may soon be tarnished, if only slightly: Reports have surfaced that pre-cup exhibition matches in South Africa were fixed. A New York Times investigation alleges that powerful gambling interests paid off referees to manipulate the outcomes of certain games. At least five games, and possibly as many as 15, were targeted. While the referees giving out questionable handball calls and yellow cards are clearly to blame, FIFA concluded that some South African soccer officials probably helped to some extent.

If true, this scandal would cast doubt on South Africa’s World Cup legacy. But there are implications for this year’s event, too. It proves that match-fixing—a persistent evil in soccer—is alive and well, and not even the World Cup is immune. Billions are wagered on the Cup worldwide—over $1.6 billion will be wagered in Great Britain alone—and there are powerful interests seeking to manipulate outcomes. FIFA dragged its feet for years on the South Africa investigations, calling into question its ability to prevent match-fixing in Brazil, which officials publicly say is a risk.

A uniting thread in all of these scandals. FIFA looks really, really bad. There’s evidence to argue that the overlords of international soccer are corrupt and incompetent at best, they’re merely incompetent. Between insisting that Brazil and Qatar will be successes as planned and accusing World Cup critics of racism, FIFA looks plain ugly. Not convinced? Watch John Oliver’s brilliant explanation:

So, while the implications of these controversies are big for Qatar and Brazil, they’re big for FIFA, too. Some are arguing to get rid of it altogether. How the upcoming months unfold could determine President Blatter’s viability going forward. A group of prominent European soccer executives have called on the longtime president to step down. For the health and well-being of soccer and the countries that love it, that might not be a horrible thing.

Looking for news you can trust?

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.


A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

Sam Brodey

FIFA President Sepp Blatter Alessandro Della Bella/AP

When the FIFA World Cup opens today in Sao Paulo, the eyes of the world will be glued to the action on the field—but recent developments off the pitch are threatening to steal the spotlight. From the news of strikes and protests coming out of Brazil to the shadiness surrounding the awarding of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, it’s difficult to keep all of the scandals straight. But fear not: Check this cheat sheet to get a sense of the off-field stories that’ll be dominating conversations for the next month.

Brazilians are really, really mad. Over the course of the past few years, Brazilians have grown outraged at the government’s handling of the World Cup. Even in this soccer-obsessed country, people are deeply resentful of the government’s decision to spend as much as $14 billion on the Cup while millions of its citizens lack basic services—services the government promised to improve ahead of the Cup. On top of that, at least nine workers have been killed in accidents related to rushed World Cup construction projects activists are alleging that more than 250,000 people faced eviction threats to accommodate Cup construction and preparations and the presence of brand-new Cup buildings has raised rent in working-class neighborhoods, pricing longtime residents out.

The streets of Brazil’s major cities have become chaotic battle zones. Tens of thousands, from the homeless to workers, have poured into the streets over the past few months to protest the government’s handling of the Cup and riot police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A series of strikes by public-sector workers demanding higher wages has paralyzed Brazil’s largest cities, bringing yet more protesters and police into the streets. Subway workers are the latest to strike, inspired by previously successful efforts by bus drivers and federal police, who threatened to strike. On Tuesday, subway employees went back to work after five days of striking, but threatened to resume the strike pending a vote (Update, 1:28 ET: no subway strike, but Rio de Janeiro airport workers have begun a 24-hour stoppage). Sao Paulo, host of Thursday’s opener, is famous for its hundred–mile traffic jams, but strikes last week brought the city to a near stand–still. A scrimmage between the US and Belgium, planned for today, was called off due to the gridlock. As thousands of visitors descend on the city, another strike has the potential to disrupt official World Cup events.

And the stadiums, airports, and transport systems aren’t even finished. Although World Cup action starts today, and an estimated 600,000 visitors have begun to descend on Brazil, up–to–date reports indicate that the infrastructure still isn’t ready. Here’s a brief list of what remains unfinished:

  • The stadiums. Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, which will host today’s opener between Brazil and Croatia, was supposed to be completed last year. But the roof is unfinished, and 20,000 fans will sit in seats that the Daily Mail alleged wouldn’t pass a UK safety test. In Manaus, deep in the Amazon, the stadium remains unfinished and the field is in horrible shape ahead of Saturday’s game there.
  • The airports. Several airports around Brazil are still not ready to handle the thousands of flights that’ll come in and out over the next weeks. In Manaus, workers, scaffolding, and machinery are everywhere. In Belo Horizonte, there are muddy sidewalks, an unfinished food court and dust everywhere. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo found that the airports of Brasilia and Sao Paulo were the only ones ready to handle the traffic.
  • The transit. In selling the Cup to the people, Brazilian officials promised 35 new rail projects—today, just five are complete. Visitors may have to resort to overcrowded roads to get to games. The rushed and haphazard construction of transit projects has also had an enormous human cost: on Monday, a worker was killed while working on Sao Paulo’s monorail. The still–unfinished prestige project was supposed to have been completed well before the Cup.

Across the board, it’s a mess of bad PR for Brazil, and Brazilians are worried that their country’s time in the world’s spotlight could become a historic embarrassment. President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings have slid to 34 percent, and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that the success of this World Cup—even the on-field success of the Brazilian team—could influence her impending re-election campaign.

Bribery, corruption, and worker abuse have reached a boiling point in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host. The world was shocked when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Of course, there’s the weather: the Persian Gulf state suffers temperatures well north of 100 degrees—sometimes over 120—in the World Cup months of June and July. And there’s the fact that the tiny, oil-rich nation has little soccer history or presence on the sport’s international stage: It’s never sent a team to the Cup to compete.

Turns out, there may have been more suspicious factors behind FIFA’s bizarre decision. The British press have alleged that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid off FIFA officials in order to secure their votes to bring the Cup to his country. Emails obtained by the Sunday Times suggest that Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia cooperated to help each other win bids, and that bin Hammam used his connections in business and government to bribe officials from Thailand to Germany. If the allegations are true, FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce said he’d push to strip Qatar of the Cup and re-award it to another country.

Another worry, especially for fans, is the cultural conservatism of Qatar. Gay fans have expressed concern about visiting the country, where homosexuality is illegal, and foreigners have been whipped and deported for violation. In 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made headlines by suggesting that gays “should refrain from sexual activity” if they visit Qatar. He quickly apologized.

What could push all this to critical mass is ongoing outrage over Qatar’s mistreatment of the construction workers tasked with building Cup infrastructure. The long hours of hard labor in unbearably hot conditions have proven lethal: It’s estimated that 1,200 workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the Cup. They are almost exclusively migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia and can only leave Qatar with the written permission of their employers—a system some watchers have compared to slavery.

Five of the World Cup’s six top corporate sponsors (including Coca-Cola and Adidas) have voiced concern over corruption and worker abuse allegations, and publicly back formal investigations. Blatter, in a rare off-message moment, admitted that giving Qatar the bid was a “mistake.” Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing on corruption charges and promised to reform labor laws—but clearly, they have a lot more to worry about than air-conditioning their stadiums.

There was match fixing at the 2010 World Cup events in South Africa. While World Cups’ present and future are beset with trouble, the 2010 Cup in South Africa was widely considered a success and a model for future hosts to follow. That legacy may soon be tarnished, if only slightly: Reports have surfaced that pre-cup exhibition matches in South Africa were fixed. A New York Times investigation alleges that powerful gambling interests paid off referees to manipulate the outcomes of certain games. At least five games, and possibly as many as 15, were targeted. While the referees giving out questionable handball calls and yellow cards are clearly to blame, FIFA concluded that some South African soccer officials probably helped to some extent.

If true, this scandal would cast doubt on South Africa’s World Cup legacy. But there are implications for this year’s event, too. It proves that match-fixing—a persistent evil in soccer—is alive and well, and not even the World Cup is immune. Billions are wagered on the Cup worldwide—over $1.6 billion will be wagered in Great Britain alone—and there are powerful interests seeking to manipulate outcomes. FIFA dragged its feet for years on the South Africa investigations, calling into question its ability to prevent match-fixing in Brazil, which officials publicly say is a risk.

A uniting thread in all of these scandals. FIFA looks really, really bad. There’s evidence to argue that the overlords of international soccer are corrupt and incompetent at best, they’re merely incompetent. Between insisting that Brazil and Qatar will be successes as planned and accusing World Cup critics of racism, FIFA looks plain ugly. Not convinced? Watch John Oliver’s brilliant explanation:

So, while the implications of these controversies are big for Qatar and Brazil, they’re big for FIFA, too. Some are arguing to get rid of it altogether. How the upcoming months unfold could determine President Blatter’s viability going forward. A group of prominent European soccer executives have called on the longtime president to step down. For the health and well-being of soccer and the countries that love it, that might not be a horrible thing.

Looking for news you can trust?

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.


A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

Sam Brodey

FIFA President Sepp Blatter Alessandro Della Bella/AP

When the FIFA World Cup opens today in Sao Paulo, the eyes of the world will be glued to the action on the field—but recent developments off the pitch are threatening to steal the spotlight. From the news of strikes and protests coming out of Brazil to the shadiness surrounding the awarding of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, it’s difficult to keep all of the scandals straight. But fear not: Check this cheat sheet to get a sense of the off-field stories that’ll be dominating conversations for the next month.

Brazilians are really, really mad. Over the course of the past few years, Brazilians have grown outraged at the government’s handling of the World Cup. Even in this soccer-obsessed country, people are deeply resentful of the government’s decision to spend as much as $14 billion on the Cup while millions of its citizens lack basic services—services the government promised to improve ahead of the Cup. On top of that, at least nine workers have been killed in accidents related to rushed World Cup construction projects activists are alleging that more than 250,000 people faced eviction threats to accommodate Cup construction and preparations and the presence of brand-new Cup buildings has raised rent in working-class neighborhoods, pricing longtime residents out.

The streets of Brazil’s major cities have become chaotic battle zones. Tens of thousands, from the homeless to workers, have poured into the streets over the past few months to protest the government’s handling of the Cup and riot police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A series of strikes by public-sector workers demanding higher wages has paralyzed Brazil’s largest cities, bringing yet more protesters and police into the streets. Subway workers are the latest to strike, inspired by previously successful efforts by bus drivers and federal police, who threatened to strike. On Tuesday, subway employees went back to work after five days of striking, but threatened to resume the strike pending a vote (Update, 1:28 ET: no subway strike, but Rio de Janeiro airport workers have begun a 24-hour stoppage). Sao Paulo, host of Thursday’s opener, is famous for its hundred–mile traffic jams, but strikes last week brought the city to a near stand–still. A scrimmage between the US and Belgium, planned for today, was called off due to the gridlock. As thousands of visitors descend on the city, another strike has the potential to disrupt official World Cup events.

And the stadiums, airports, and transport systems aren’t even finished. Although World Cup action starts today, and an estimated 600,000 visitors have begun to descend on Brazil, up–to–date reports indicate that the infrastructure still isn’t ready. Here’s a brief list of what remains unfinished:

  • The stadiums. Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, which will host today’s opener between Brazil and Croatia, was supposed to be completed last year. But the roof is unfinished, and 20,000 fans will sit in seats that the Daily Mail alleged wouldn’t pass a UK safety test. In Manaus, deep in the Amazon, the stadium remains unfinished and the field is in horrible shape ahead of Saturday’s game there.
  • The airports. Several airports around Brazil are still not ready to handle the thousands of flights that’ll come in and out over the next weeks. In Manaus, workers, scaffolding, and machinery are everywhere. In Belo Horizonte, there are muddy sidewalks, an unfinished food court and dust everywhere. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo found that the airports of Brasilia and Sao Paulo were the only ones ready to handle the traffic.
  • The transit. In selling the Cup to the people, Brazilian officials promised 35 new rail projects—today, just five are complete. Visitors may have to resort to overcrowded roads to get to games. The rushed and haphazard construction of transit projects has also had an enormous human cost: on Monday, a worker was killed while working on Sao Paulo’s monorail. The still–unfinished prestige project was supposed to have been completed well before the Cup.

Across the board, it’s a mess of bad PR for Brazil, and Brazilians are worried that their country’s time in the world’s spotlight could become a historic embarrassment. President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings have slid to 34 percent, and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that the success of this World Cup—even the on-field success of the Brazilian team—could influence her impending re-election campaign.

Bribery, corruption, and worker abuse have reached a boiling point in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host. The world was shocked when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Of course, there’s the weather: the Persian Gulf state suffers temperatures well north of 100 degrees—sometimes over 120—in the World Cup months of June and July. And there’s the fact that the tiny, oil-rich nation has little soccer history or presence on the sport’s international stage: It’s never sent a team to the Cup to compete.

Turns out, there may have been more suspicious factors behind FIFA’s bizarre decision. The British press have alleged that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid off FIFA officials in order to secure their votes to bring the Cup to his country. Emails obtained by the Sunday Times suggest that Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia cooperated to help each other win bids, and that bin Hammam used his connections in business and government to bribe officials from Thailand to Germany. If the allegations are true, FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce said he’d push to strip Qatar of the Cup and re-award it to another country.

Another worry, especially for fans, is the cultural conservatism of Qatar. Gay fans have expressed concern about visiting the country, where homosexuality is illegal, and foreigners have been whipped and deported for violation. In 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made headlines by suggesting that gays “should refrain from sexual activity” if they visit Qatar. He quickly apologized.

What could push all this to critical mass is ongoing outrage over Qatar’s mistreatment of the construction workers tasked with building Cup infrastructure. The long hours of hard labor in unbearably hot conditions have proven lethal: It’s estimated that 1,200 workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the Cup. They are almost exclusively migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia and can only leave Qatar with the written permission of their employers—a system some watchers have compared to slavery.

Five of the World Cup’s six top corporate sponsors (including Coca-Cola and Adidas) have voiced concern over corruption and worker abuse allegations, and publicly back formal investigations. Blatter, in a rare off-message moment, admitted that giving Qatar the bid was a “mistake.” Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing on corruption charges and promised to reform labor laws—but clearly, they have a lot more to worry about than air-conditioning their stadiums.

There was match fixing at the 2010 World Cup events in South Africa. While World Cups’ present and future are beset with trouble, the 2010 Cup in South Africa was widely considered a success and a model for future hosts to follow. That legacy may soon be tarnished, if only slightly: Reports have surfaced that pre-cup exhibition matches in South Africa were fixed. A New York Times investigation alleges that powerful gambling interests paid off referees to manipulate the outcomes of certain games. At least five games, and possibly as many as 15, were targeted. While the referees giving out questionable handball calls and yellow cards are clearly to blame, FIFA concluded that some South African soccer officials probably helped to some extent.

If true, this scandal would cast doubt on South Africa’s World Cup legacy. But there are implications for this year’s event, too. It proves that match-fixing—a persistent evil in soccer—is alive and well, and not even the World Cup is immune. Billions are wagered on the Cup worldwide—over $1.6 billion will be wagered in Great Britain alone—and there are powerful interests seeking to manipulate outcomes. FIFA dragged its feet for years on the South Africa investigations, calling into question its ability to prevent match-fixing in Brazil, which officials publicly say is a risk.

A uniting thread in all of these scandals. FIFA looks really, really bad. There’s evidence to argue that the overlords of international soccer are corrupt and incompetent at best, they’re merely incompetent. Between insisting that Brazil and Qatar will be successes as planned and accusing World Cup critics of racism, FIFA looks plain ugly. Not convinced? Watch John Oliver’s brilliant explanation:

So, while the implications of these controversies are big for Qatar and Brazil, they’re big for FIFA, too. Some are arguing to get rid of it altogether. How the upcoming months unfold could determine President Blatter’s viability going forward. A group of prominent European soccer executives have called on the longtime president to step down. For the health and well-being of soccer and the countries that love it, that might not be a horrible thing.

Looking for news you can trust?

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.


A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

Sam Brodey

FIFA President Sepp Blatter Alessandro Della Bella/AP

When the FIFA World Cup opens today in Sao Paulo, the eyes of the world will be glued to the action on the field—but recent developments off the pitch are threatening to steal the spotlight. From the news of strikes and protests coming out of Brazil to the shadiness surrounding the awarding of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, it’s difficult to keep all of the scandals straight. But fear not: Check this cheat sheet to get a sense of the off-field stories that’ll be dominating conversations for the next month.

Brazilians are really, really mad. Over the course of the past few years, Brazilians have grown outraged at the government’s handling of the World Cup. Even in this soccer-obsessed country, people are deeply resentful of the government’s decision to spend as much as $14 billion on the Cup while millions of its citizens lack basic services—services the government promised to improve ahead of the Cup. On top of that, at least nine workers have been killed in accidents related to rushed World Cup construction projects activists are alleging that more than 250,000 people faced eviction threats to accommodate Cup construction and preparations and the presence of brand-new Cup buildings has raised rent in working-class neighborhoods, pricing longtime residents out.

The streets of Brazil’s major cities have become chaotic battle zones. Tens of thousands, from the homeless to workers, have poured into the streets over the past few months to protest the government’s handling of the Cup and riot police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A series of strikes by public-sector workers demanding higher wages has paralyzed Brazil’s largest cities, bringing yet more protesters and police into the streets. Subway workers are the latest to strike, inspired by previously successful efforts by bus drivers and federal police, who threatened to strike. On Tuesday, subway employees went back to work after five days of striking, but threatened to resume the strike pending a vote (Update, 1:28 ET: no subway strike, but Rio de Janeiro airport workers have begun a 24-hour stoppage). Sao Paulo, host of Thursday’s opener, is famous for its hundred–mile traffic jams, but strikes last week brought the city to a near stand–still. A scrimmage between the US and Belgium, planned for today, was called off due to the gridlock. As thousands of visitors descend on the city, another strike has the potential to disrupt official World Cup events.

And the stadiums, airports, and transport systems aren’t even finished. Although World Cup action starts today, and an estimated 600,000 visitors have begun to descend on Brazil, up–to–date reports indicate that the infrastructure still isn’t ready. Here’s a brief list of what remains unfinished:

  • The stadiums. Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, which will host today’s opener between Brazil and Croatia, was supposed to be completed last year. But the roof is unfinished, and 20,000 fans will sit in seats that the Daily Mail alleged wouldn’t pass a UK safety test. In Manaus, deep in the Amazon, the stadium remains unfinished and the field is in horrible shape ahead of Saturday’s game there.
  • The airports. Several airports around Brazil are still not ready to handle the thousands of flights that’ll come in and out over the next weeks. In Manaus, workers, scaffolding, and machinery are everywhere. In Belo Horizonte, there are muddy sidewalks, an unfinished food court and dust everywhere. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo found that the airports of Brasilia and Sao Paulo were the only ones ready to handle the traffic.
  • The transit. In selling the Cup to the people, Brazilian officials promised 35 new rail projects—today, just five are complete. Visitors may have to resort to overcrowded roads to get to games. The rushed and haphazard construction of transit projects has also had an enormous human cost: on Monday, a worker was killed while working on Sao Paulo’s monorail. The still–unfinished prestige project was supposed to have been completed well before the Cup.

Across the board, it’s a mess of bad PR for Brazil, and Brazilians are worried that their country’s time in the world’s spotlight could become a historic embarrassment. President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings have slid to 34 percent, and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that the success of this World Cup—even the on-field success of the Brazilian team—could influence her impending re-election campaign.

Bribery, corruption, and worker abuse have reached a boiling point in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host. The world was shocked when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Of course, there’s the weather: the Persian Gulf state suffers temperatures well north of 100 degrees—sometimes over 120—in the World Cup months of June and July. And there’s the fact that the tiny, oil-rich nation has little soccer history or presence on the sport’s international stage: It’s never sent a team to the Cup to compete.

Turns out, there may have been more suspicious factors behind FIFA’s bizarre decision. The British press have alleged that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid off FIFA officials in order to secure their votes to bring the Cup to his country. Emails obtained by the Sunday Times suggest that Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia cooperated to help each other win bids, and that bin Hammam used his connections in business and government to bribe officials from Thailand to Germany. If the allegations are true, FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce said he’d push to strip Qatar of the Cup and re-award it to another country.

Another worry, especially for fans, is the cultural conservatism of Qatar. Gay fans have expressed concern about visiting the country, where homosexuality is illegal, and foreigners have been whipped and deported for violation. In 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made headlines by suggesting that gays “should refrain from sexual activity” if they visit Qatar. He quickly apologized.

What could push all this to critical mass is ongoing outrage over Qatar’s mistreatment of the construction workers tasked with building Cup infrastructure. The long hours of hard labor in unbearably hot conditions have proven lethal: It’s estimated that 1,200 workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the Cup. They are almost exclusively migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia and can only leave Qatar with the written permission of their employers—a system some watchers have compared to slavery.

Five of the World Cup’s six top corporate sponsors (including Coca-Cola and Adidas) have voiced concern over corruption and worker abuse allegations, and publicly back formal investigations. Blatter, in a rare off-message moment, admitted that giving Qatar the bid was a “mistake.” Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing on corruption charges and promised to reform labor laws—but clearly, they have a lot more to worry about than air-conditioning their stadiums.

There was match fixing at the 2010 World Cup events in South Africa. While World Cups’ present and future are beset with trouble, the 2010 Cup in South Africa was widely considered a success and a model for future hosts to follow. That legacy may soon be tarnished, if only slightly: Reports have surfaced that pre-cup exhibition matches in South Africa were fixed. A New York Times investigation alleges that powerful gambling interests paid off referees to manipulate the outcomes of certain games. At least five games, and possibly as many as 15, were targeted. While the referees giving out questionable handball calls and yellow cards are clearly to blame, FIFA concluded that some South African soccer officials probably helped to some extent.

If true, this scandal would cast doubt on South Africa’s World Cup legacy. But there are implications for this year’s event, too. It proves that match-fixing—a persistent evil in soccer—is alive and well, and not even the World Cup is immune. Billions are wagered on the Cup worldwide—over $1.6 billion will be wagered in Great Britain alone—and there are powerful interests seeking to manipulate outcomes. FIFA dragged its feet for years on the South Africa investigations, calling into question its ability to prevent match-fixing in Brazil, which officials publicly say is a risk.

A uniting thread in all of these scandals. FIFA looks really, really bad. There’s evidence to argue that the overlords of international soccer are corrupt and incompetent at best, they’re merely incompetent. Between insisting that Brazil and Qatar will be successes as planned and accusing World Cup critics of racism, FIFA looks plain ugly. Not convinced? Watch John Oliver’s brilliant explanation:

So, while the implications of these controversies are big for Qatar and Brazil, they’re big for FIFA, too. Some are arguing to get rid of it altogether. How the upcoming months unfold could determine President Blatter’s viability going forward. A group of prominent European soccer executives have called on the longtime president to step down. For the health and well-being of soccer and the countries that love it, that might not be a horrible thing.

Looking for news you can trust?

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.


A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

Sam Brodey

FIFA President Sepp Blatter Alessandro Della Bella/AP

When the FIFA World Cup opens today in Sao Paulo, the eyes of the world will be glued to the action on the field—but recent developments off the pitch are threatening to steal the spotlight. From the news of strikes and protests coming out of Brazil to the shadiness surrounding the awarding of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, it’s difficult to keep all of the scandals straight. But fear not: Check this cheat sheet to get a sense of the off-field stories that’ll be dominating conversations for the next month.

Brazilians are really, really mad. Over the course of the past few years, Brazilians have grown outraged at the government’s handling of the World Cup. Even in this soccer-obsessed country, people are deeply resentful of the government’s decision to spend as much as $14 billion on the Cup while millions of its citizens lack basic services—services the government promised to improve ahead of the Cup. On top of that, at least nine workers have been killed in accidents related to rushed World Cup construction projects activists are alleging that more than 250,000 people faced eviction threats to accommodate Cup construction and preparations and the presence of brand-new Cup buildings has raised rent in working-class neighborhoods, pricing longtime residents out.

The streets of Brazil’s major cities have become chaotic battle zones. Tens of thousands, from the homeless to workers, have poured into the streets over the past few months to protest the government’s handling of the Cup and riot police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A series of strikes by public-sector workers demanding higher wages has paralyzed Brazil’s largest cities, bringing yet more protesters and police into the streets. Subway workers are the latest to strike, inspired by previously successful efforts by bus drivers and federal police, who threatened to strike. On Tuesday, subway employees went back to work after five days of striking, but threatened to resume the strike pending a vote (Update, 1:28 ET: no subway strike, but Rio de Janeiro airport workers have begun a 24-hour stoppage). Sao Paulo, host of Thursday’s opener, is famous for its hundred–mile traffic jams, but strikes last week brought the city to a near stand–still. A scrimmage between the US and Belgium, planned for today, was called off due to the gridlock. As thousands of visitors descend on the city, another strike has the potential to disrupt official World Cup events.

And the stadiums, airports, and transport systems aren’t even finished. Although World Cup action starts today, and an estimated 600,000 visitors have begun to descend on Brazil, up–to–date reports indicate that the infrastructure still isn’t ready. Here’s a brief list of what remains unfinished:

  • The stadiums. Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, which will host today’s opener between Brazil and Croatia, was supposed to be completed last year. But the roof is unfinished, and 20,000 fans will sit in seats that the Daily Mail alleged wouldn’t pass a UK safety test. In Manaus, deep in the Amazon, the stadium remains unfinished and the field is in horrible shape ahead of Saturday’s game there.
  • The airports. Several airports around Brazil are still not ready to handle the thousands of flights that’ll come in and out over the next weeks. In Manaus, workers, scaffolding, and machinery are everywhere. In Belo Horizonte, there are muddy sidewalks, an unfinished food court and dust everywhere. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo found that the airports of Brasilia and Sao Paulo were the only ones ready to handle the traffic.
  • The transit. In selling the Cup to the people, Brazilian officials promised 35 new rail projects—today, just five are complete. Visitors may have to resort to overcrowded roads to get to games. The rushed and haphazard construction of transit projects has also had an enormous human cost: on Monday, a worker was killed while working on Sao Paulo’s monorail. The still–unfinished prestige project was supposed to have been completed well before the Cup.

Across the board, it’s a mess of bad PR for Brazil, and Brazilians are worried that their country’s time in the world’s spotlight could become a historic embarrassment. President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings have slid to 34 percent, and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that the success of this World Cup—even the on-field success of the Brazilian team—could influence her impending re-election campaign.

Bribery, corruption, and worker abuse have reached a boiling point in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host. The world was shocked when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Of course, there’s the weather: the Persian Gulf state suffers temperatures well north of 100 degrees—sometimes over 120—in the World Cup months of June and July. And there’s the fact that the tiny, oil-rich nation has little soccer history or presence on the sport’s international stage: It’s never sent a team to the Cup to compete.

Turns out, there may have been more suspicious factors behind FIFA’s bizarre decision. The British press have alleged that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid off FIFA officials in order to secure their votes to bring the Cup to his country. Emails obtained by the Sunday Times suggest that Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia cooperated to help each other win bids, and that bin Hammam used his connections in business and government to bribe officials from Thailand to Germany. If the allegations are true, FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce said he’d push to strip Qatar of the Cup and re-award it to another country.

Another worry, especially for fans, is the cultural conservatism of Qatar. Gay fans have expressed concern about visiting the country, where homosexuality is illegal, and foreigners have been whipped and deported for violation. In 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made headlines by suggesting that gays “should refrain from sexual activity” if they visit Qatar. He quickly apologized.

What could push all this to critical mass is ongoing outrage over Qatar’s mistreatment of the construction workers tasked with building Cup infrastructure. The long hours of hard labor in unbearably hot conditions have proven lethal: It’s estimated that 1,200 workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the Cup. They are almost exclusively migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia and can only leave Qatar with the written permission of their employers—a system some watchers have compared to slavery.

Five of the World Cup’s six top corporate sponsors (including Coca-Cola and Adidas) have voiced concern over corruption and worker abuse allegations, and publicly back formal investigations. Blatter, in a rare off-message moment, admitted that giving Qatar the bid was a “mistake.” Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing on corruption charges and promised to reform labor laws—but clearly, they have a lot more to worry about than air-conditioning their stadiums.

There was match fixing at the 2010 World Cup events in South Africa. While World Cups’ present and future are beset with trouble, the 2010 Cup in South Africa was widely considered a success and a model for future hosts to follow. That legacy may soon be tarnished, if only slightly: Reports have surfaced that pre-cup exhibition matches in South Africa were fixed. A New York Times investigation alleges that powerful gambling interests paid off referees to manipulate the outcomes of certain games. At least five games, and possibly as many as 15, were targeted. While the referees giving out questionable handball calls and yellow cards are clearly to blame, FIFA concluded that some South African soccer officials probably helped to some extent.

If true, this scandal would cast doubt on South Africa’s World Cup legacy. But there are implications for this year’s event, too. It proves that match-fixing—a persistent evil in soccer—is alive and well, and not even the World Cup is immune. Billions are wagered on the Cup worldwide—over $1.6 billion will be wagered in Great Britain alone—and there are powerful interests seeking to manipulate outcomes. FIFA dragged its feet for years on the South Africa investigations, calling into question its ability to prevent match-fixing in Brazil, which officials publicly say is a risk.

A uniting thread in all of these scandals. FIFA looks really, really bad. There’s evidence to argue that the overlords of international soccer are corrupt and incompetent at best, they’re merely incompetent. Between insisting that Brazil and Qatar will be successes as planned and accusing World Cup critics of racism, FIFA looks plain ugly. Not convinced? Watch John Oliver’s brilliant explanation:

So, while the implications of these controversies are big for Qatar and Brazil, they’re big for FIFA, too. Some are arguing to get rid of it altogether. How the upcoming months unfold could determine President Blatter’s viability going forward. A group of prominent European soccer executives have called on the longtime president to step down. For the health and well-being of soccer and the countries that love it, that might not be a horrible thing.

Looking for news you can trust?

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.


A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

Sam Brodey

FIFA President Sepp Blatter Alessandro Della Bella/AP

When the FIFA World Cup opens today in Sao Paulo, the eyes of the world will be glued to the action on the field—but recent developments off the pitch are threatening to steal the spotlight. From the news of strikes and protests coming out of Brazil to the shadiness surrounding the awarding of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, it’s difficult to keep all of the scandals straight. But fear not: Check this cheat sheet to get a sense of the off-field stories that’ll be dominating conversations for the next month.

Brazilians are really, really mad. Over the course of the past few years, Brazilians have grown outraged at the government’s handling of the World Cup. Even in this soccer-obsessed country, people are deeply resentful of the government’s decision to spend as much as $14 billion on the Cup while millions of its citizens lack basic services—services the government promised to improve ahead of the Cup. On top of that, at least nine workers have been killed in accidents related to rushed World Cup construction projects activists are alleging that more than 250,000 people faced eviction threats to accommodate Cup construction and preparations and the presence of brand-new Cup buildings has raised rent in working-class neighborhoods, pricing longtime residents out.

The streets of Brazil’s major cities have become chaotic battle zones. Tens of thousands, from the homeless to workers, have poured into the streets over the past few months to protest the government’s handling of the Cup and riot police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A series of strikes by public-sector workers demanding higher wages has paralyzed Brazil’s largest cities, bringing yet more protesters and police into the streets. Subway workers are the latest to strike, inspired by previously successful efforts by bus drivers and federal police, who threatened to strike. On Tuesday, subway employees went back to work after five days of striking, but threatened to resume the strike pending a vote (Update, 1:28 ET: no subway strike, but Rio de Janeiro airport workers have begun a 24-hour stoppage). Sao Paulo, host of Thursday’s opener, is famous for its hundred–mile traffic jams, but strikes last week brought the city to a near stand–still. A scrimmage between the US and Belgium, planned for today, was called off due to the gridlock. As thousands of visitors descend on the city, another strike has the potential to disrupt official World Cup events.

And the stadiums, airports, and transport systems aren’t even finished. Although World Cup action starts today, and an estimated 600,000 visitors have begun to descend on Brazil, up–to–date reports indicate that the infrastructure still isn’t ready. Here’s a brief list of what remains unfinished:

  • The stadiums. Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, which will host today’s opener between Brazil and Croatia, was supposed to be completed last year. But the roof is unfinished, and 20,000 fans will sit in seats that the Daily Mail alleged wouldn’t pass a UK safety test. In Manaus, deep in the Amazon, the stadium remains unfinished and the field is in horrible shape ahead of Saturday’s game there.
  • The airports. Several airports around Brazil are still not ready to handle the thousands of flights that’ll come in and out over the next weeks. In Manaus, workers, scaffolding, and machinery are everywhere. In Belo Horizonte, there are muddy sidewalks, an unfinished food court and dust everywhere. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo found that the airports of Brasilia and Sao Paulo were the only ones ready to handle the traffic.
  • The transit. In selling the Cup to the people, Brazilian officials promised 35 new rail projects—today, just five are complete. Visitors may have to resort to overcrowded roads to get to games. The rushed and haphazard construction of transit projects has also had an enormous human cost: on Monday, a worker was killed while working on Sao Paulo’s monorail. The still–unfinished prestige project was supposed to have been completed well before the Cup.

Across the board, it’s a mess of bad PR for Brazil, and Brazilians are worried that their country’s time in the world’s spotlight could become a historic embarrassment. President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings have slid to 34 percent, and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that the success of this World Cup—even the on-field success of the Brazilian team—could influence her impending re-election campaign.

Bribery, corruption, and worker abuse have reached a boiling point in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host. The world was shocked when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Of course, there’s the weather: the Persian Gulf state suffers temperatures well north of 100 degrees—sometimes over 120—in the World Cup months of June and July. And there’s the fact that the tiny, oil-rich nation has little soccer history or presence on the sport’s international stage: It’s never sent a team to the Cup to compete.

Turns out, there may have been more suspicious factors behind FIFA’s bizarre decision. The British press have alleged that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid off FIFA officials in order to secure their votes to bring the Cup to his country. Emails obtained by the Sunday Times suggest that Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia cooperated to help each other win bids, and that bin Hammam used his connections in business and government to bribe officials from Thailand to Germany. If the allegations are true, FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce said he’d push to strip Qatar of the Cup and re-award it to another country.

Another worry, especially for fans, is the cultural conservatism of Qatar. Gay fans have expressed concern about visiting the country, where homosexuality is illegal, and foreigners have been whipped and deported for violation. In 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made headlines by suggesting that gays “should refrain from sexual activity” if they visit Qatar. He quickly apologized.

What could push all this to critical mass is ongoing outrage over Qatar’s mistreatment of the construction workers tasked with building Cup infrastructure. The long hours of hard labor in unbearably hot conditions have proven lethal: It’s estimated that 1,200 workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the Cup. They are almost exclusively migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia and can only leave Qatar with the written permission of their employers—a system some watchers have compared to slavery.

Five of the World Cup’s six top corporate sponsors (including Coca-Cola and Adidas) have voiced concern over corruption and worker abuse allegations, and publicly back formal investigations. Blatter, in a rare off-message moment, admitted that giving Qatar the bid was a “mistake.” Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing on corruption charges and promised to reform labor laws—but clearly, they have a lot more to worry about than air-conditioning their stadiums.

There was match fixing at the 2010 World Cup events in South Africa. While World Cups’ present and future are beset with trouble, the 2010 Cup in South Africa was widely considered a success and a model for future hosts to follow. That legacy may soon be tarnished, if only slightly: Reports have surfaced that pre-cup exhibition matches in South Africa were fixed. A New York Times investigation alleges that powerful gambling interests paid off referees to manipulate the outcomes of certain games. At least five games, and possibly as many as 15, were targeted. While the referees giving out questionable handball calls and yellow cards are clearly to blame, FIFA concluded that some South African soccer officials probably helped to some extent.

If true, this scandal would cast doubt on South Africa’s World Cup legacy. But there are implications for this year’s event, too. It proves that match-fixing—a persistent evil in soccer—is alive and well, and not even the World Cup is immune. Billions are wagered on the Cup worldwide—over $1.6 billion will be wagered in Great Britain alone—and there are powerful interests seeking to manipulate outcomes. FIFA dragged its feet for years on the South Africa investigations, calling into question its ability to prevent match-fixing in Brazil, which officials publicly say is a risk.

A uniting thread in all of these scandals. FIFA looks really, really bad. There’s evidence to argue that the overlords of international soccer are corrupt and incompetent at best, they’re merely incompetent. Between insisting that Brazil and Qatar will be successes as planned and accusing World Cup critics of racism, FIFA looks plain ugly. Not convinced? Watch John Oliver’s brilliant explanation:

So, while the implications of these controversies are big for Qatar and Brazil, they’re big for FIFA, too. Some are arguing to get rid of it altogether. How the upcoming months unfold could determine President Blatter’s viability going forward. A group of prominent European soccer executives have called on the longtime president to step down. For the health and well-being of soccer and the countries that love it, that might not be a horrible thing.

Looking for news you can trust?

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.


A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

Sam Brodey

FIFA President Sepp Blatter Alessandro Della Bella/AP

When the FIFA World Cup opens today in Sao Paulo, the eyes of the world will be glued to the action on the field—but recent developments off the pitch are threatening to steal the spotlight. From the news of strikes and protests coming out of Brazil to the shadiness surrounding the awarding of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, it’s difficult to keep all of the scandals straight. But fear not: Check this cheat sheet to get a sense of the off-field stories that’ll be dominating conversations for the next month.

Brazilians are really, really mad. Over the course of the past few years, Brazilians have grown outraged at the government’s handling of the World Cup. Even in this soccer-obsessed country, people are deeply resentful of the government’s decision to spend as much as $14 billion on the Cup while millions of its citizens lack basic services—services the government promised to improve ahead of the Cup. On top of that, at least nine workers have been killed in accidents related to rushed World Cup construction projects activists are alleging that more than 250,000 people faced eviction threats to accommodate Cup construction and preparations and the presence of brand-new Cup buildings has raised rent in working-class neighborhoods, pricing longtime residents out.

The streets of Brazil’s major cities have become chaotic battle zones. Tens of thousands, from the homeless to workers, have poured into the streets over the past few months to protest the government’s handling of the Cup and riot police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A series of strikes by public-sector workers demanding higher wages has paralyzed Brazil’s largest cities, bringing yet more protesters and police into the streets. Subway workers are the latest to strike, inspired by previously successful efforts by bus drivers and federal police, who threatened to strike. On Tuesday, subway employees went back to work after five days of striking, but threatened to resume the strike pending a vote (Update, 1:28 ET: no subway strike, but Rio de Janeiro airport workers have begun a 24-hour stoppage). Sao Paulo, host of Thursday’s opener, is famous for its hundred–mile traffic jams, but strikes last week brought the city to a near stand–still. A scrimmage between the US and Belgium, planned for today, was called off due to the gridlock. As thousands of visitors descend on the city, another strike has the potential to disrupt official World Cup events.

And the stadiums, airports, and transport systems aren’t even finished. Although World Cup action starts today, and an estimated 600,000 visitors have begun to descend on Brazil, up–to–date reports indicate that the infrastructure still isn’t ready. Here’s a brief list of what remains unfinished:

  • The stadiums. Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, which will host today’s opener between Brazil and Croatia, was supposed to be completed last year. But the roof is unfinished, and 20,000 fans will sit in seats that the Daily Mail alleged wouldn’t pass a UK safety test. In Manaus, deep in the Amazon, the stadium remains unfinished and the field is in horrible shape ahead of Saturday’s game there.
  • The airports. Several airports around Brazil are still not ready to handle the thousands of flights that’ll come in and out over the next weeks. In Manaus, workers, scaffolding, and machinery are everywhere. In Belo Horizonte, there are muddy sidewalks, an unfinished food court and dust everywhere. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo found that the airports of Brasilia and Sao Paulo were the only ones ready to handle the traffic.
  • The transit. In selling the Cup to the people, Brazilian officials promised 35 new rail projects—today, just five are complete. Visitors may have to resort to overcrowded roads to get to games. The rushed and haphazard construction of transit projects has also had an enormous human cost: on Monday, a worker was killed while working on Sao Paulo’s monorail. The still–unfinished prestige project was supposed to have been completed well before the Cup.

Across the board, it’s a mess of bad PR for Brazil, and Brazilians are worried that their country’s time in the world’s spotlight could become a historic embarrassment. President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings have slid to 34 percent, and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that the success of this World Cup—even the on-field success of the Brazilian team—could influence her impending re-election campaign.

Bribery, corruption, and worker abuse have reached a boiling point in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host. The world was shocked when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Of course, there’s the weather: the Persian Gulf state suffers temperatures well north of 100 degrees—sometimes over 120—in the World Cup months of June and July. And there’s the fact that the tiny, oil-rich nation has little soccer history or presence on the sport’s international stage: It’s never sent a team to the Cup to compete.

Turns out, there may have been more suspicious factors behind FIFA’s bizarre decision. The British press have alleged that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid off FIFA officials in order to secure their votes to bring the Cup to his country. Emails obtained by the Sunday Times suggest that Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia cooperated to help each other win bids, and that bin Hammam used his connections in business and government to bribe officials from Thailand to Germany. If the allegations are true, FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce said he’d push to strip Qatar of the Cup and re-award it to another country.

Another worry, especially for fans, is the cultural conservatism of Qatar. Gay fans have expressed concern about visiting the country, where homosexuality is illegal, and foreigners have been whipped and deported for violation. In 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made headlines by suggesting that gays “should refrain from sexual activity” if they visit Qatar. He quickly apologized.

What could push all this to critical mass is ongoing outrage over Qatar’s mistreatment of the construction workers tasked with building Cup infrastructure. The long hours of hard labor in unbearably hot conditions have proven lethal: It’s estimated that 1,200 workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the Cup. They are almost exclusively migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia and can only leave Qatar with the written permission of their employers—a system some watchers have compared to slavery.

Five of the World Cup’s six top corporate sponsors (including Coca-Cola and Adidas) have voiced concern over corruption and worker abuse allegations, and publicly back formal investigations. Blatter, in a rare off-message moment, admitted that giving Qatar the bid was a “mistake.” Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing on corruption charges and promised to reform labor laws—but clearly, they have a lot more to worry about than air-conditioning their stadiums.

There was match fixing at the 2010 World Cup events in South Africa. While World Cups’ present and future are beset with trouble, the 2010 Cup in South Africa was widely considered a success and a model for future hosts to follow. That legacy may soon be tarnished, if only slightly: Reports have surfaced that pre-cup exhibition matches in South Africa were fixed. A New York Times investigation alleges that powerful gambling interests paid off referees to manipulate the outcomes of certain games. At least five games, and possibly as many as 15, were targeted. While the referees giving out questionable handball calls and yellow cards are clearly to blame, FIFA concluded that some South African soccer officials probably helped to some extent.

If true, this scandal would cast doubt on South Africa’s World Cup legacy. But there are implications for this year’s event, too. It proves that match-fixing—a persistent evil in soccer—is alive and well, and not even the World Cup is immune. Billions are wagered on the Cup worldwide—over $1.6 billion will be wagered in Great Britain alone—and there are powerful interests seeking to manipulate outcomes. FIFA dragged its feet for years on the South Africa investigations, calling into question its ability to prevent match-fixing in Brazil, which officials publicly say is a risk.

A uniting thread in all of these scandals. FIFA looks really, really bad. There’s evidence to argue that the overlords of international soccer are corrupt and incompetent at best, they’re merely incompetent. Between insisting that Brazil and Qatar will be successes as planned and accusing World Cup critics of racism, FIFA looks plain ugly. Not convinced? Watch John Oliver’s brilliant explanation:

So, while the implications of these controversies are big for Qatar and Brazil, they’re big for FIFA, too. Some are arguing to get rid of it altogether. How the upcoming months unfold could determine President Blatter’s viability going forward. A group of prominent European soccer executives have called on the longtime president to step down. For the health and well-being of soccer and the countries that love it, that might not be a horrible thing.

Looking for news you can trust?

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.


A Guide to the Scandals Plaguing the World Cup

Sam Brodey

FIFA President Sepp Blatter Alessandro Della Bella/AP

When the FIFA World Cup opens today in Sao Paulo, the eyes of the world will be glued to the action on the field—but recent developments off the pitch are threatening to steal the spotlight. From the news of strikes and protests coming out of Brazil to the shadiness surrounding the awarding of the 2022 Cup to Qatar, it’s difficult to keep all of the scandals straight. But fear not: Check this cheat sheet to get a sense of the off-field stories that’ll be dominating conversations for the next month.

Brazilians are really, really mad. Over the course of the past few years, Brazilians have grown outraged at the government’s handling of the World Cup. Even in this soccer-obsessed country, people are deeply resentful of the government’s decision to spend as much as $14 billion on the Cup while millions of its citizens lack basic services—services the government promised to improve ahead of the Cup. On top of that, at least nine workers have been killed in accidents related to rushed World Cup construction projects activists are alleging that more than 250,000 people faced eviction threats to accommodate Cup construction and preparations and the presence of brand-new Cup buildings has raised rent in working-class neighborhoods, pricing longtime residents out.

The streets of Brazil’s major cities have become chaotic battle zones. Tens of thousands, from the homeless to workers, have poured into the streets over the past few months to protest the government’s handling of the Cup and riot police have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. A series of strikes by public-sector workers demanding higher wages has paralyzed Brazil’s largest cities, bringing yet more protesters and police into the streets. Subway workers are the latest to strike, inspired by previously successful efforts by bus drivers and federal police, who threatened to strike. On Tuesday, subway employees went back to work after five days of striking, but threatened to resume the strike pending a vote (Update, 1:28 ET: no subway strike, but Rio de Janeiro airport workers have begun a 24-hour stoppage). Sao Paulo, host of Thursday’s opener, is famous for its hundred–mile traffic jams, but strikes last week brought the city to a near stand–still. A scrimmage between the US and Belgium, planned for today, was called off due to the gridlock. As thousands of visitors descend on the city, another strike has the potential to disrupt official World Cup events.

And the stadiums, airports, and transport systems aren’t even finished. Although World Cup action starts today, and an estimated 600,000 visitors have begun to descend on Brazil, up–to–date reports indicate that the infrastructure still isn’t ready. Here’s a brief list of what remains unfinished:

  • The stadiums. Sao Paulo’s Arena Corinthians, which will host today’s opener between Brazil and Croatia, was supposed to be completed last year. But the roof is unfinished, and 20,000 fans will sit in seats that the Daily Mail alleged wouldn’t pass a UK safety test. In Manaus, deep in the Amazon, the stadium remains unfinished and the field is in horrible shape ahead of Saturday’s game there.
  • The airports. Several airports around Brazil are still not ready to handle the thousands of flights that’ll come in and out over the next weeks. In Manaus, workers, scaffolding, and machinery are everywhere. In Belo Horizonte, there are muddy sidewalks, an unfinished food court and dust everywhere. Brazil’s Folha de Sao Paulo found that the airports of Brasilia and Sao Paulo were the only ones ready to handle the traffic.
  • The transit. In selling the Cup to the people, Brazilian officials promised 35 new rail projects—today, just five are complete. Visitors may have to resort to overcrowded roads to get to games. The rushed and haphazard construction of transit projects has also had an enormous human cost: on Monday, a worker was killed while working on Sao Paulo’s monorail. The still–unfinished prestige project was supposed to have been completed well before the Cup.

Across the board, it’s a mess of bad PR for Brazil, and Brazilians are worried that their country’s time in the world’s spotlight could become a historic embarrassment. President Dilma Rousseff’s approval ratings have slid to 34 percent, and it’s not a stretch at all to suggest that the success of this World Cup—even the on-field success of the Brazilian team—could influence her impending re-election campaign.

Bribery, corruption, and worker abuse have reached a boiling point in Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host. The world was shocked when Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup in 2010. Of course, there’s the weather: the Persian Gulf state suffers temperatures well north of 100 degrees—sometimes over 120—in the World Cup months of June and July. And there’s the fact that the tiny, oil-rich nation has little soccer history or presence on the sport’s international stage: It’s never sent a team to the Cup to compete.

Turns out, there may have been more suspicious factors behind FIFA’s bizarre decision. The British press have alleged that Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam paid off FIFA officials in order to secure their votes to bring the Cup to his country. Emails obtained by the Sunday Times suggest that Qatar and 2018 World Cup host Russia cooperated to help each other win bids, and that bin Hammam used his connections in business and government to bribe officials from Thailand to Germany. If the allegations are true, FIFA Vice President Jim Boyce said he’d push to strip Qatar of the Cup and re-award it to another country.

Another worry, especially for fans, is the cultural conservatism of Qatar. Gay fans have expressed concern about visiting the country, where homosexuality is illegal, and foreigners have been whipped and deported for violation. In 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter made headlines by suggesting that gays “should refrain from sexual activity” if they visit Qatar. He quickly apologized.

What could push all this to critical mass is ongoing outrage over Qatar’s mistreatment of the construction workers tasked with building Cup infrastructure. The long hours of hard labor in unbearably hot conditions have proven lethal: It’s estimated that 1,200 workers have died in Qatar since the country was awarded the Cup. They are almost exclusively migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia and can only leave Qatar with the written permission of their employers—a system some watchers have compared to slavery.

Five of the World Cup’s six top corporate sponsors (including Coca-Cola and Adidas) have voiced concern over corruption and worker abuse allegations, and publicly back formal investigations. Blatter, in a rare off-message moment, admitted that giving Qatar the bid was a “mistake.” Qatari officials have denied wrongdoing on corruption charges and promised to reform labor laws—but clearly, they have a lot more to worry about than air-conditioning their stadiums.

There was match fixing at the 2010 World Cup events in South Africa. While World Cups’ present and future are beset with trouble, the 2010 Cup in South Africa was widely considered a success and a model for future hosts to follow. That legacy may soon be tarnished, if only slightly: Reports have surfaced that pre-cup exhibition matches in South Africa were fixed. A New York Times investigation alleges that powerful gambling interests paid off referees to manipulate the outcomes of certain games. At least five games, and possibly as many as 15, were targeted. While the referees giving out questionable handball calls and yellow cards are clearly to blame, FIFA concluded that some South African soccer officials probably helped to some extent.

If true, this scandal would cast doubt on South Africa’s World Cup legacy. But there are implications for this year’s event, too. It proves that match-fixing—a persistent evil in soccer—is alive and well, and not even the World Cup is immune. Billions are wagered on the Cup worldwide—over $1.6 billion will be wagered in Great Britain alone—and there are powerful interests seeking to manipulate outcomes. FIFA dragged its feet for years on the South Africa investigations, calling into question its ability to prevent match-fixing in Brazil, which officials publicly say is a risk.

A uniting thread in all of these scandals. FIFA looks really, really bad. There’s evidence to argue that the overlords of international soccer are corrupt and incompetent at best, they’re merely incompetent. Between insisting that Brazil and Qatar will be successes as planned and accusing World Cup critics of racism, FIFA looks plain ugly. Not convinced? Watch John Oliver’s brilliant explanation:

So, while the implications of these controversies are big for Qatar and Brazil, they’re big for FIFA, too. Some are arguing to get rid of it altogether. How the upcoming months unfold could determine President Blatter’s viability going forward. A group of prominent European soccer executives have called on the longtime president to step down. For the health and well-being of soccer and the countries that love it, that might not be a horrible thing.

Looking for news you can trust?

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.