World Cup

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Word Cup does not put people first

OUT OF RANGE
Next summer's World Cup has already priced out many fans.
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Leander Schaerlaeckens

Leander Schaerlaeckens has written about soccer for The New York Times, The Guardian, ESPN The Magazine and World Soccer. Follow him on Twitter.

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AT CLOSE RANGE

With the World Cup one year away, Brazil's final sprint starts now.

The primordial appeal of soccer lies in its accessibility. All it takes to play is a ball, a pair of functioning legs, at least one opponent and a few square yards that are more or less flat. In most all countries, it is the sport of both the rich and the poor, the famous and the anonymous, the strong and the weak, the beautiful and the unsightly. Find a field, wait a while, and you’ll probably find some soccer; played globally, interpreted locally.

It is the world’s game, the beautiful game.

But in Brazil, the very place that coined the phrase "jogo bonito," threatens to relinquish its accessibility and beauty. And at the World Cup, the sport’s showcase event, no less.

For the first time since 1950, soccer’s quadrennial big dance will be held in Brazil, the only country to have won it five times, the country that continues to mass-produce and export the finest players around.

This edition, however, does not promise to be beautiful.

Brazil is marred by violence, which inevitably bleeds into its national pastime every now and again. In the most recent and high-profile and gruesome cases, a player and a referee were left dead after an amateur game in June -- the former stabbed to death by the latter, and the latter then lynched and dismembered by spectators. Just a few months later, a former professional player’s severed head was delivered to his wife’s doorstep by a drug gang.

If these incidents are mere aberrations, fan violence is nevertheless commonplace in Brazil. Seemingly every week brings new reports of attacks on players, officials and pitch invasions. Yet one can presume with some certainty that FIFA won’t let its cash cow be defiled by any such ugliness. The commercial interests are far too great. Outside of the stadiums, however, no such promises can be made.

SAO PAU-LOW!

Will violence hinder Brazil's 2014 World Cup plans? Signs point to yes.

Starting with this past summer’s Confederations Cup, Brazil has been beset by tense demonstrations. They are the residue of considerable social unrest stemming from the misappropriation of World Cup dollars and the corruption it has multiplied and magnified in a time when schools, hospitals and other public services are in sorry shape. Brazil, for all its economic promise, continues to be the cozy home of crime and chaos. And since efforts to rid the cities of gangs are fraught and almost all infrastructure upgrades (not to mention stadiums) are well behind schedule, no improvement in these matters appears imminent.

Even the tournament’s entrants are worried about how it will all come off. “There clearly are some concerns,” Football Federation Australia’s David Gallop told the Australian Associated Press. His team, after all, witnessed the use of tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters ahead of the Socceroos’ 6-0 loss in a friendly in Brasilia in September.

Organizing committee CEO Ricardo Trade even felt compelled to ask the public to “treat the people who come here [for the World Cup] well.” He added: "Protest for what you believe is fair. The country is growing and needs to do better in terms of social inequality. But let’s not forget that we are bringing over an important event for your country.”

Still, these ailments are merely the upshot of staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a developing country, as FIFA insists on doing. What isn’t understandable or excusable, however, is the gouging.

The price of accommodations and transportation for the duration of the tournament have skyrocketed to the point that the government is investigating cartel-formation among hotel chains. A study earlier this year found that hotel prices would be up some 500 percent during the World Cup. The government seems to blame MATCH, FIFA’s own accommodation agency, which has booked out some 800 hotels for the duration of the World Cup. MATCH counters that the hotels set their own prices. Either way, the consumer -- the fan -- suffers.

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The American Outlaws, the biggest supporter group of the United States men's national team, has booked 510 of its members onto three World Cup-bound chartered planes, according to its president Korey Donahoo. Those flights and two weeks’ worth of hotels to cover the USA’s group stage alone will cost about $5,000. They’ll then have to secure tickets on their own -- ranging in price from $90 to $175 per group stage game -- and pony up for food and entertainment. Foreign fans not enjoying the American Outlaws’ collective bargaining powers are looking at an even steeper price tag to see the World Cup.

In the maddest of soccer-mad countries, the people’s game will not be played for the people -- whether Brazil’s or anybody else’s. The domestic Brazilian soccer league has already priced out many fans with its soaring ticket prices, which are now allegedly the highest in the world. The World Cup will do the same. The common man won’t be able to afford it. Nor will most of the merely well-to do.

Christopher Gaffney, an academic geographer and investigative journalist based in Brazil since 2004 and the author of the Hunting White Elephants blog, wherein he chronicles Brazil’s World Cup preparations, put it more grimly still. “Brazil [2014] is a 20 billion dollar comedy of errors,” he wrote. “The promised urban improvements won’t be ready, the militarization of urban space is ever more profound, and once-loved (though decaying) stadiums have been turned into antiseptic nodes of casual entertainment, social exclusion and rapacious accumulation.”

Enjoying the simple game, the beautiful game, has grown complicated and ugly.

(Note: Leander Schaerlaeckens' views are his own and do not necessarily represent those of FOX Sports.)

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