Soccer, the Olympics and Sustainability:

a perfect match?


June, 16, 2014 

The FIFA World Cup 2014 has started in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Soccer connects and unites those in a country, while (poor) Brazilians are demonstrating against the huge investments in the game, and not changing their dire situations. In addition, in 2016, the Summer Olympics and Paralympics will take place in Rio as well. However, both games have much effect on the local and global scale with regards to social, economic, and ecological issues. Therefore, the question is: is it possible to unite sustainability with such big sport events like the World Cup, the Olympics and Paralympics? I think it can. But how?

Soccer has a long tradition. Since the early Greek and Roman times, (and even before, in China), it has grown into a national event, and taking it global took up until 1872, so says Wikipedia (2014). The global aspects unites countries and those living within countries. National disputes, quarrels with your neighbor, and the like, are for some time set aside and 'forgotten'. Especially when a team is winning, like the Netherlands from Spain with 5-1! What an epic game that was! I'm in Quito, Ecuador, and the Ecuadorian commentators kept on screaming GOOAAAL! GOAAAL! every time the Netherlands were making one. Van Persie, now called 'the Flying Dutchman', started with the 1-1! Which stimulated many funny pictures on the internet, like the picture below: Van Persie with an Orange Cape, as a superhero! I'm normally not a soccer fan, but I have to admit, when going for the World Cup, I'm! I even get a little emotional, because it is a national event. This counts the same for the Olympics. I'm a fan of gymnastics since I have done that for seven years myself. In addition, I like many other sports to watch (and some I do myself), like swimming, diving, and more. 

With global competitions such as the World Cup and the Olympics/Paralympics, much is invested in new buildings, roads, tourism, and so forth. So they have definitely positive sides. However, there are also negative sides, in relation to social, economic, and environmental issues. First of all, the social and economic issues. As you may have noticed, the poor living in favelas (Portuguese for slum) in Rio, are absolutely not happy with the FIFA (and possibly the Olympics&Paralympics), due to the organization and investments as a whole. There are around 600 favelas in Brazil, with dire housing and living situations. However, migration to rural areas exist, due to government investments in rural areas. The Brazilian Government has attempted several times since the former century to improve the urban poverty situation in the country. However, this has been accompanied with trying to remove or rehabilitate favela areas even though, the favelas have been officially recognized. In addition, walls have been constructed around the favelas in order to limit their growth. Some suspect that this is a way to hide the area from the events. Furthermore, the construction of the TransCarioca Expressway has led to destruction of many of the favela homes and therefore, displacing households. The highway is meant for the visitors to get along quickly (Wikipedia, 2014; NOS, June, 2014).

In addition, the favelas are still dealing with many other environmental, economic, and social issues such as no hardly any sanitation (no sewage), low security, poverty, drug trafficking, low healthcare, and water and indoor air pollution. This is a real problem. In addition to the poor situation, they have low education (access), security issues, and they are often discriminated for living in the area, therefore, experiencing inequality and exploitation. As such, it is hard for them to find a job (Wikipedia, 2014). The human increments are out on the streets and the rats are enjoying them freely (NOS, June, 2014). Energy access is low, let alone renewable energy, although this has been changing with innovative and smart projects (The Guardian, 2014). Overall, this is more than an inhuman situation. In addition, all the investments for the FIFA World Cup went to the new constructions and buildings, roads, hotels, etc., and nothing to the poorest in Rio. Therefore, groups united in order to demonstrate against this situation. Brazil’s government is acting against it with war-like police and army groups in preparation for fierce encounters with the demonstrators (Wikipedia, 2014; NOS, June, 2014). It seems as if they prepare for 'all hell breaking loose'. The poorest, the powerless, will have no voice to raise. This is not the way forward. Nor for the World Cup, the Olympics or the Paralympics, nor for the poor. It is unequal and forceful, in many social, economic, and environmental ways. So what then is the 'way'?

The FIFA has a sustainability strategy concept, with a vision and several approaches, but it doesn't say how specifically projects are to be implemented (FIFA World Cup, 2012). The Olympics and Paralympics have a sustainability strategy as well, which is more outlined in detail and more extensive. However, this is focused on the sustainability chain of the games, rather than the whole city and durable sustainability projects over time and space. Indeed, it even mentions to relocate Favela do Metro! (Olympics & Paralympics, 2013). So this should change. First of all, the purpose of a FIFA World Cup and the Olympics in a specific city should be twofold: to organize a great event, and it should benefit the whole city, in the sense of social and environmental aspects on the short, medium, and long term. This should be integrated into one another. Secondly, dialogues should start between all kinds of representatives of the city, including the poorest of the poor, and not only a happy few stakeholders. Social and environmental groups should also join the roundtable. Third, to make it concrete, projects which improve the social and environmental situations in the city should be implemented over short, medium and long term, with the help of the organizations, the government, the municipalities, and possibly even the national teams. Crowd funding could also be an option for the fans. Indeed, for instance, for every goal or point, a fan can invest in a household, a school, a solar panel, a drinking water system, a sewage system, new (green&social) jobs, and so forth. When the positive emotions are flying high, people may be more inclined to invest. It adds to a feeling of care, of a bit of ownership of the game and the city, and a positive feeling that the competition is not only good for the play itself since it extends beyond that. Also computer (sport/soccer) games can use the same technique: for every goal you make, you can invest in a particular project. 

By doing the above, a city not only benefits of the game, but also in regards to social and environmental issues. Indeed, a city could transform to a 100% sustainable one, through the Games! Sports and sustainability can be a match. So let's enjoy the game, while doing good!



Source: Major League Soccer,



FIFA World Cup (2012). Sustainability Strategy Concept.

The Guardian (2014). On: 

NOS, National Dutch Television News. (June, 2014).

Olympics & Paralympics (2013). Sustainability management plan – August 2013.

Wikipedia. (2014). 

Comments - Only related to blogpost

Leave a Reply

(Your email will not be publicly displayed.)

Captcha Code

Click the image to see another captcha.