Over 100 million Americans tuned into this year’s Super Bowl. TV ads during the game cost over $4 million for 30 seconds. I love sports. I love playing sports, and the health benefits that come with exercise. But let’s not let sports be a diversion from the important issues facing the world, such as what bankers are getting away with each and every day.
While Americans watched the Super Bowl, the rest of the world geared up for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It’s been an ongoing challenge for the city to get ready for the Games, with charges of water pollution in Guanabara Bay, anti-government demonstrations, protests and more rocking the city.
Parallel to this, bankers and Big Business are gearing up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and other trade agreements and policies that will enable them to exploit people and resources on an even larger scale than what we’ve experienced until now. Although Olympians and bankers may seem to have little in common, their two stories tell us a great deal about the nature of the systems that manipulate all of us.
Back to Rio. The city faced a test run for the Olympics on a smaller scale in 2014 with the FIFA World Cup. Prior to the Cup, FIFA demanded huge upgrades to the country’s infrastructure, plus 20,000 police for the event. Although these were paid for by the Brazilian government, it primarily benefited the businesses that built the infrastructure and were protected by the police. Citizens saw how much was being spent and staged protests.
There are an estimated 130,000 people living in about 750 slums (called favelas) in Rio. These favelas lack basic services and have had no municipal support for almost 30 years. When FIFA listed their security demands for the Cup, the government instituted 24/7 police surveillance in the slums to assure that residents did not come down into the city and disrupt the sports events. This was a huge windfall for the police and the military industrial complex, which also included the creation of a surveillance hub for the police for both the Cup and Olympics, at a cost of $50 million to the government—to the citizens of Brazil.
Meanwhile, people in the favelas and throughout the country are hungry and need healthcare. Money instead goes to building stadiums and sports complexes that will be barely used after the big events. If a country can afford to host the World Cup and Olympics, it should be able to take care of its people. The priorities for these big events don’t match the people’s priorities.
Big corporations profit immensely from sports events, while small businesses can suffer. In the case of the World Cup, Brazil banned alcohol sales in sports stadiums in 2003 to help curb game-related violence. That wouldn’t do for Budweiser though, one of the sponsors of the Cup. So a temporary amendment was passed for the month of the Cup to allow Budweiser beer sales in the stadium. Local beer vendors and bars were not allowed to sell beer in a 2-kilometer radius of the stadium. It’s disgusting to see how these big corporations can suspend a law designed to keep the people safe, and at the same time hurt local, small businesspeople outside of the actual sports event.
In my new book, The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, out now, I detail what happened after the Cup to top-ranking FIFA officials. According to charges brought by the U.S. Justice Department against leaders of international soccer’s governing body, the perpetrators employed many of the tools that had been part of my Economic Hit Man kit, including bribes, fraud, and money laundering, and it was done in collaboration with the big banks. The corruption was unchecked for nearly two decades and cost the communities and taxpayers of many nations fortunes while making a small number of elites wealthy.
At first, I was relieved that the U.S. Justice Department had taken action against FIFA. This seemed a step in the right direction. The regulators were finally regulating. Then I saw a different aspect. The soccer scandal was a smoke-and-mirrors diversion, a shield that protected the Justice Department and bankers.
Although international banks agreed to pay $14 billion for crimes they had committed in rigging interest and exchange rate indices, not a single banking officer was indicted. Media attention focused on a nonessential aspect of life—sports—at a time when the real criminals were stealing the global economy. Individual FIFA officials were carted off in handcuffs while bank executives awarded themselves multimillion-dollar bonuses. The banking lobby owns the Justice Department. FIFA officials do not.
In the U.S., the Super Bowl is a metaphor for a much more widespread form of materialism that infects the sports world. We build immense university football stadiums that are used only a few times a year for home games, while millions of our citizens can’t afford a college education Many others go deep into debt in order to receive a degree. What does that say about our priorities? While money for these stadiums and athletic programs may come from alumni donations, wouldn’t we and future generations be better served by giving the money to students, as scholarships or simply to reduce the cost of education? It’s all a symptom of a much greater malady and a bigger question: Where is our money going?
During events like the Super Bowl and this summer’s Olympics in Rio, find out what the real stories are behind the scenes and what the people on the street are actually experiencing from more than one media source. Enjoy sports, but stay alert and don’t let them take your mind off what’s really happening in the world.