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Two Weeks Out From the World Cup, a Familiar Picture Emerges

The opening match between Brazil and Croatia will kick off two weeks from tomorrow. But there seems less anticipation leading up to the Cup on whether Brazil will reign supreme on its home soil, or on the fitness level of stars like Messi and Neymar. Rather, the attention in the business press is on Brazil's investment in stadiums (12!) and transportation infrastructure. In years past, the sales pitch that such investment would spur economic development was repeated ad infinitum in the press. Events finally seem to have caught up with the fourth estate on this topic, as most stories now point to the follies and failures of mega-event motivated investment.

Today brings two informative (and ungated) stories from the Wall Street Journal, "Hope Fades ... for an Economic Boost," and "A Dozen Stadiums, a Million Problems." Reading these, it seems clear that Brazil's $11.5 billion investment in the World Cup was pitched to the public as being "transformative" (once again), with the follow-on economic boost from new facilities justifying the massive expenditures. This tune has been played many times and has been chronicled here at TSE since 2004. The evidence on the ground, then as now, is much the same: once the show leaves town, the super-sized facilities stand as symbols of political ambition, inflated expectations, waste, corruption, and ultimately as organizational failure at the highest level of international sport. Last week, HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel had a piece on the "Olympic White Elephants" that dot the landscape of Athens, 10 years after the 2004 Games. It's "must see tv" and quite sad. Greece would have been so much better off had these investments been made in sustainable enterprises.