For anyone unfamiliar with the term, BRICS is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (why it’s not BRICSA is not exactly clear, but it helps the pun in my title) who are grouped together because they supposedly represent emerging economies which will have a significant impact on the future of the global economic landscape. Obviously such groupings are always largely arbitrary, and until recently South Africa was excluded from the group and they were known as BRIC. One commentator has joked that the addition of new states to this group will soon make it BRIIICTSS, which would really screw up that title pun I have going on there.
Between 2010 and 2018 three of the BRICS states will host the football World Cup (2010 was in South Africa, and the 2014 edition in Brazil will be followed by the 2018 one in Russia), and the 2022 World Cup will be in Qatar. While it’s not BRICS member or even a BRIIICTSS(?) member, Qatar is a rapidly developing economy of potential global importance. This post will look at what the preparation and execution of these world cups can tell us about the challenges and issues facing the engagement of the BRICS and other emerging economies with the broader global market and international community as a whole. Not all the issues I identify will be equally applicable to all BRICS or emerging economies, but they are all significant points nonetheless.
Transparency and corruption: The allegations of corruption following the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups have been widely publicised but the focus has primarily been on the place of FIFA in this, not the bidders themselves. However it takes two parties to instigate corruption and the fact that these allegations exist does not look good for Russia or Qatar if they hope to attract more investment and foreign business. Brazil, too, has been dealing with its own corruption saga surrounding the 2014 World Cup preparations. Interestingly, Qatar is perceived to be the 22nd least corrupt country in the world, Brazil the 73rd, and Russia a lowly 143rd. South Africa had corruption allegations associated with its World Cup too, and is ranked 64th on the same index (more data on corruption and transparency is available from here).
Safety and security: The safety and security of foreign visitors at the 2010 World Cup was a major concern before it started, but did not prove to be an issue after all. Similar safety concerns have been raised about Russia and, to a lesser extent, Brazil. Only time will tell if these worries are more accurate than those about South Africa but if the BRICS and other emerging economies want to establish themselves as global leaders then they must first be able to ensure the safety and security of foreign nationals visiting their countries. Obviously the World Cup is an extreme example of this because of the sheer size of the event and the unsavoury actions of a minority of football “fans” but the fact remains that these concerns were not raised at relatively recent football World Cups held in the USA, Japan, South Korea, France or Germany.
Human rights: This one in particular applies to Qatar, where homosexuality is against the law and punishable by death. FIFA boss Sepp Blatter was one of the people who did not seem to have a problem with this (for a quick rundown on the sort of chap he is, check out this list of quotes from him) , but plenty of others are outraged at it. The controversy surrounding this issues is likely to grow even louder the closer the event becomes. Russia can also probably expect protestors to use the World Cup to highlight its human rights abuses, although these may not affect the visiting fans themselves. This issue is important to BRICS and emerging economies because if they want soft power to match their rising economic power (as Qatar clearly does) then they will presumably be expected to adopt similar human rights norms as those parts of the world which currently wield the most soft power, namely the EU and USA. However, as always with human rights, it is important to note that those states themselves do not always have the best records despite the impression they like to give.
Managing growth: As Brazil has begun construction on stadia and other infrastructure for the World Cup, up to 1.5 million families may be made homeless by these projects, an issue which ties into the appalling conditions in the flavelas, the shantytowns of Sao Paulo and Rio. This highlights a problem facing all rapidly growing economies: making sure that people don’t get left behind by the development and rising wealth. In order to stop this happening, governments need to ensure poor people are protected from the side effects of major development projects, and that cities are managed to provide the best standard of living for their citizens as economic drives rapid urbanisation.
Emerging economies and states which wish for a bigger influence in global affairs face a range of challenges. How Brazil, Russia and Qatar manage the World Cups they are hosting will reflect on them in a number of ways, and may well highlight some of these issues. South Africa’s World Cup was widely regarded as a success and I would suggest that most people’s attitudes towards South Africa improved as a result of the World Cup (although not all aspects of their culture came across positively). The next three hosts will be hoping and striving for a similar outcome. Whether that is the case remains to be seen.