Questioning the mega-event legacy: Planning and unkept promises in Brazil’s World Cup of 2014

As the opening of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil unfolds, protests have once again raged against the excessive spending on the sports event rather than on much-needed public sector services. In part, the huge funds spent on the World Cup helped to fuel the June 2013 protests across Brazil, among other issues.1 On June 15, 2014, protesters demonstrated in Rio with the slogan ‘se não tiver direitos, não vai ter Copa’ (If there are no rights, there won’t be a World Cup) (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: A sign reads ‘We want schools, subways, trains, buses, ferries and hospitals to ‘Fifa’s standards’’ (Agência Brasil)

Figure 1: A sign reads ‘We want schools, subways, trains, buses, ferries and hospitals to ‘Fifa’s standards’’ (Agência Brasil)

Unkept promises

As a backdrop to the protests that started in June 2013 and more recently surrounding the World Cup, a developing story in the planning context is the promise by the Brazilian government to deliver infrastructure to support the World Cup and the disappointing result of unkept promises. This disconnect between promised public infrastructure projects – such as various public transport systems – and the many delayed or yet-to-be started projects, is an intriguing story for planners watching the World Cup develop. This is referred to by Thornley (2012: 207) as the “dark side” of legacy, including the displacement of uses, rights and residents to make way for venues as well as the lost projects from which funds are ultimately diverted.

For example, in the Brazilian amazonian city of Manaus, an urban transport system that included a monorail and a BRT was promised yet the project never began. Manaus’ airport is also being upgraded, but was not ready in time for beginning of the World Cup. Many of the longer-term investments in public transportation have also been scrapped, such as the high speed train linking Rio and São Paulo. Projected to begin for the World Cup, the train will only be finished by 2020, if at all. There has also been criticism of the stadiums that will be used only a handful of times for World Cup matches yet will be unlikely to host a team once the games are over.

Figure 2: Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek International Airport in Brasilia, April 2014, still under construction (Associated Press)

Figure 2: Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek International Airport in Brasilia, April 2014, still under construction (Associated Press)

Figure 3: Work being done on a bridge for the Transcarioca BRT line in Rio, May 2014 (Getty Images/Aljazeera)

In 2010, the government promised a ‘matrix of responsibilities’ in the 12 cities holding World Cup games.In addition to the obvious stadiums and urban transport systems such as BRTs, airports, ports and hotels were promised. In 2010, the estimated investment in infrastructure (urban mobility, airports and ports) was US$8 billion [R$17.7 billion] and all projects were to be ready by December 2013.

Delays, cost overruns, lawsuits and corruption scandals have put a damper on the World Cup festivities: “At 100 days before the World Cup, reality proves to be quite different from what was projected on paper: only 18% of infrastructure projects were delivered and investment fell to [US$6.5 billion] R$14.7 billion – cut by [US$1.5 billion] R$3 billion” (Marques, 2014). In the updated matrix in September, there were 45 projects listed in the area of urban mobility (10 of these are improvements surrounding the stadiums), 12 in stadiums, 30 in airports and 6 in airports.

Brazil has spent about US$ 11 billion (over $25 billion reais) on infrastructure related to the World Cup. A third of this cost went to both building and refashioning stadiums in the 12 host cities. Despite spending so much on the World Cup, Brazil has delivered only a fraction of the projects it promised to undertake, and many of those are unfinished, such as Rio’s international airport. Many such projects are unfinished and others never left the drawing board. The newspaper Folha de São Paulo reported in May 2014 that only 41% of the planned projects had been completed (or 68 out of 167). This includes the completion of 10% of urban transport projects and 49% of airport and port projects. In addition, 88 projects are incomplete or will be left for after the World Cup to be completed and 11 were entirely abandoned. To get this data, Folha “listed and checked the progress of all actions contained in the so-called ‘matrix of responsibilities’” (Folha de São Paulo, 2014).

In addition, despite a decrease in investments, the majority of the projects in the 2010 document increased in cost: “in other words, the decrease in the total value occurred principally because of the exclusion of large projects and not because of the cheapening of the works” (Marques, 2014).

Even worse, there has been little official information released about the specifics of the unfinished projects and the percentage compared to the total expected in 2010. While the updated matrix of responsibilities is available online, it shows the volume of funds “projected” but not the amount spent on the projects, making it necsesary to turn to media reports to show  infrastructure projects that are delayed or not happening. As Ricardo Setti noted recently in column in Veja, by disclosing the amount of money invested without detailing the specifics, the government manufactures a magical account: “Magic makes most projects receive the generic stamp of ‘adequate progress’” (Setti, 2014).

Overall, the last priority in the leadup to the World Cup was transportation – after stadiums and airports. The solution for notoriously bad congestion in some cities was to declare holidays for the days with games. In the second week of the games, Rio had only two regular business days. Rio’s much-lauded BRT will only be partly operational for the World Cup, with only some of its 45 stations running. BRTs and light rail projects in other cities have been scrapped. Although the problem is arguably not only related to the World Cup, the promise of many large-scale infrastructure projects such as BRTs is deceptive.

The legacy of the games for whom?

The legacy of the games is often touted as a rationale for hosting such events, together with legitimizing the spatial transformations of the city. Indeed, the expericence of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics helped to perpetuate the notion of the wider urban legacy of the games while “images of empty venues post-games raised questions about the economic and environmental costs of mega-events and the benefits to local populations” (Brownhill, et al., 2013: 112). The idea that hosting mega-events such as the World Cup will result in few social benefits has been pervasive this time around, as has been the case in past events. As a BBC story noted recently, although Brazil has a duty to put on a good show, “what about the government’s “duty” to its own people?” (Davies, 2014). In a critque of use of the term ‘legacy’ for the city of Rio, Magalhães (2013: 94) notes that its use appears in numersous situations where an explanation of the urban interventions in Rio was deemed necessary through a repertoire of removals, which have resulted in changes in the use of city space and the displacement of some favela residents. For that reason, Brownhill et al (2013) not that such legacies are political, with different possible visions between the initial drawing up of plans and the actual delivery of those plans.

Indeed, in contrast to the role such events play as vehicles for development, much of the literature has characterized mega-events as “powerful engines in the neo-liberal reconfiguration of the city, promoting the privatization and commodification of urban space, and the implementation of market-oriented economic policies” (Sánchez & Broudehoux, 2013: 135). In the case of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Pillay and Bass (2008: 331) note that

Mega-events are often used as ‘spectacles’ that can best be understood as either instruments of hegemonic power, or displays of urban ‘boosterism’ by economic elites wed to a particularly narrow-minded pro-growth vision of the city. As such, these events are often seen as no more than public relations ventures far removed from the realities of urban problems and challenges.

Similarly, in reference to the case of Rio (probably the most widely studied city in Brazil in relation to the mega-events because of the coming Olympics in 2016), Sánchez and Broudehoux (2013) argue that mega-events are being instrumentalized by local political and economic elites, creating an exclusive vision of urban regeneration. Ultimately, the authors argue, this has paved the way for  state-assisted privatization and commodification of the urban realm, fulfilling the needs of capital while intensifying socio-spatial segregation, inequality and social conflicts. Carlos Vainer (2011) has made the argument that mega-events are part of a process that has led to a city of exception, a new type of urban regime or reconfiguration of power structures at the local and national levels which imposes a new neo-liberal order marked by authoritarianism and exceptionalism: “The mega-events realized in its intense and full form, the city of exception. In this city, everything goes outside the formal institutional mechanisms… The city of mega-events is the city of ad hoc decisions, exemptions, special permits…” Drawing on Agamben’s (2005) idea of a state of exception, such exceptions turn into the rule as they become key tools to bypass the democratic political process in implementing mega projects. In this scheme, the General Law of the World Cup (Lei Geral da Copa) acts as an exemption. During the World Cup, some Brazilian laws have even been temporarily revoked. One of the most noteworthy of these exemptions was to reverse the ban on alcohol in stadiums, allowing Budweiser (a FIFA sponsor) to sell beer at World Cup games.

This discourse about the city of exceptions forces one to think about who the investments are benefitting, even as mega-events are touted as profiting the city as a whole. So what can we expect for the 2016 Olympics? Of course, all eyes will be on Rio as 2016 nears.

1 See my post on the protests in 2013 here.

2 See


Agamben, G. (2005). State of Exception. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Brownhill, S., Keivani, R., & Pereira, G. (2013). “Olympic Legacies and City Development Strategies in London and Rio; Beyond the Carnival Mask?”  International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development 5(2): 111-131.

Davies, W. (2014, June 16). “Has Brazil proved World Cup doubters wrong?” BBC.

Folha de São Paulo (2014, May 13). “A 30 Dias da Copa, Metade das Metas Não Foi Cumprida.” Folha de São Paulo.

Magalhães, A. (2013). “O ‘Legado” dos Megaeventos Esportivos: A Reatualização da Remoção de Favelas no Rio de Janeiro.”  Horizontes Antropológicos 19(40): 89-118.

Marques, F. (2014, March 4). “A 100 Dias da Copa, Só 18% das Obras de Infraestrutura Foram Entregues.” O Globo.

Pillay, U., & Bass, O. (2008). “Mega-events as a Response to Poverty Reduction: The 2010 FIFA World Cup and its Urban Development Implications.”  Urban Forum 19(3): 329-346.

Sánchez, F., & Broudehoux, A.-M. (2013). “Mega-Events and Urban Regeneration in Rio de Janeiro: Planning in a State of Emergency.”  International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development 5(2): 132-153.

Setti, R. (2014, March 7). “VEJAM O RIDÍCULO: O trem-bala São Paulo-Rio, que nem foi licitado — e talvez nunca venha a existir -, consta na papelada do governo como estando ‘com andamento adequado’.” Veja.

Thornley, A. (2012). “The London 2012 Olympics: What Legacy?”  Journal of Policy Research in Tourism, Leisure and Events 4(2): 206-210.

Vainer, C. (2011). Cidade de Exceção: Reflexões a Partir do Rio de Janeiro. Paper presented at the XIV Encontro Nacional da ANPUR, Rio de Janeiro, May 23-27.


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