What can we learn from the World Cup?

Last updated: Jan 30th, 2019

I think I’ve just about recovered from the disappointment. England’s early exit from the World Cup and Iran (my sweepstake team) also failing to make it past the group stages left me feeling a little bit short changed. From a more neutral point of view the tournament so far has been filled with moments of excitement; beautiful football, tense penalty shoot outs, allegations of match fixing and cheating and of course, the much publicised “biting incident”.

What though if we look beyond the football on the pitch, the glitz and glamour and ridiculously overpaid stars. Controversy has courted this tournament in Brazil as opposition from large groups of Brazilians in the form of sometimes violent protests has attempted to highlight much deeper issues. Hard to comprehend from a nation renowned for its passionate worship of the game. Despite this, media reports have focused on the back page news, only making front page headlines when a certain Uruguayan striker happened to fall onto an Italian and sink his teeth into his shoulder.

Brazil is a globalised economy well down the line on the development spectrum as a rapidly industrialising country and yet the benefits of this rapid growth are still only felt by the fortunate few. Inequality is rife in Brazilian society, as it is in many countries around the world but maybe whilst the eyes of the world are on Brazil we should use this opportunity to engage our students in discussion and debate about these issues.

Such a major sporting event should offer opportunities to the masses, create employment and a route away from the poverty that persists in most of Brazil’s major cities. Many of the residents of the favelas may have contributed to the cheap labour force that was necessary to build the stadia but there is little chance that they would ever be able to afford the exorbitant price of a ticket to actually watch a match. The billions of dollars reported to be spent on developing infrastructure and building new facilities is staggering and yet despite this there are millions of people living in inadequate makeshift shacks, put together from waste materials with no running water, sanitation or electricity. Health, education and social services are all neglected with the money diverted to fund the huge undertaking of hosting the world cup.

The worst favelas have long been no go areas for the police with horrific rates of murder and drug crime but there is suddenly a new found interest in cracking down on crime and stamping out the problems that might cause embarrassment. Of course this is no bad thing but the cynic in me wonders just how long this will last.

There is an abundance of teaching material available about Brazil but maybe the issues that are becoming evident as a result of the World Cup provide us with the opportunity to encourage our students to look beyond the surface and investigate all sides of the story. Surely hosting an event such as the world cup will bring many benefits? If so why the protests from a population fanatical about football? There is an endless list of potential questions. If you’re looking for some ideas on teaching resources a great place to start is Oxfam Education.

What questions will your students seek to answer?