Can Brazil Handle the World Cup?

GW students investigate the financial, environmental and social impact of the tournament.

World Cup
Students from the George Washington University and four other universities will travel to Brazil with Associate Professor of Tourism and Sports Management Lisa Delpy Neirotti (center) for the 2014 World Cup.
June 16, 2014

By Brittney Dunkins

As 32 soccer, or “football,” teams go head to head for the 20th World Cup tournament, Brazil—the host country and home of the third-ranked team in the world—will compete for more than a sixth national title and global bragging rights.

The nation is out to prove that it can manage thousands of visitors and fans as well as the expectations that accompany a global sporting event. With anxiety mounting over delayed construction, protests and rising costs, the question remains, “Is Brazil prepared to handle the World Cup?”

A group of 17 undergraduate and graduate students representing the George Washington University School of Business, Seattle University, Miami University of Ohio, the University of Tennessee and the University of Louisville will answer that question and more as they investigate the financial, environmental and social effects of the tournament in Brazil.

The cohort will head to Salvador, Brazil’s first capital city, on Thursday, the first stop on an innovative short-term study abroad program led by Associate Professor of Tourism and Sports Management Lisa Delpy Neirotti.

“Most of the students are studying sports management or marketing, and this course allows them to witness all of the moving parts involved in hosting a mega-event,” Dr. Neirotti said. “They will hear from event organizers about the challenges involved in implementing plans and from corporate sponsors about the logistics of leveraging an initial sponsorship investment of $300 million.”

Dr. Neirotti is no stranger to taking her classroom to the global stage, most recently having led a successful study abroad trip to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Olympics. She began planning the World Cup study abroad program after taking students to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and prepared the curriculum and itinerary through multiple visits to Brazil. . 

During the 11-day trip, the students will take in the excitement of three live matches, including the matchup between the U.S. and Portugal on June 22. They will also meet with the representatives from FIFA, the Rio 2016 Olympic Organizing Committee, the United States Soccer Federation and Octagon Sports Marketing Agency, an organization that works with nine World Cup sponsors.

They will also sit down with major corporate partners, sponsors and supporters, including executives from Coca-Cola, Visa, Anheuser-Busch InBev and Adidas.

 “One of my biggest regrets from my undergraduate years is never studying abroad,” Dianna Leyton, a GWSB M.B.A. student of Ecuadorian descent, said.

Ms. Leyton said that as a child growing up in the U.S., her family was “glued to the TV” during the World Cup because it reminded them of home—now she’ll get to see the high-energy event live.

“Traveling, learning from an accomplished professor with a strong sports marketing network, studying corporate social responsibility practices and learning about the legacy of the World Cup makes this program a truly unique opportunity,” she said. 

In addition to sporting and cultural events, the students will visit nonprofit organizations such as Football Beyond Borders, which aims to engage youth and tackle social and financial inequality through soccer.

The economic situation in Brazil has been under a microscope since the country was tapped to host the World Cup seven years ago, and recent reports that Brazilians are resentful of government spending on the tournament are more complicated than how they are portrayed in the media, according to Dr. Neirotti.

“What most people do not understand is that FIFA has a $500 million allocation for the tournament and covers most of the cost of operations,” Dr. Neirotti said. “The main problem is that corruption caused excessive spending, and Brazil decided to build 12 stadiums instead of the minimum eight stadiums required by FIFA.”

Hiwa Alaghebandian, a first-year M.B.A. student at GW, said that she expects social media to play a large role in how Brazil’s hosting duties are assessed. She added that a Twitter hashtag similar to #sochiproblems, which revealed negative reactions to the 2014 Winter Olympics, could come into play.

Rashad Al-Madhoun, a GWSB senior, was a spectator at the 2010 World Cup held in South Africa and the 2014 Winter Olympics. He said that mega-events are an easy target for speculation about whether a country can handle the crowds and the cost of hosting.

 “It will be interesting to see what legacy the tournament leaves behind in Brazil,” Mr. Al-Madhoun said. “The last time Brazil hosted the cup was in 1950, and they lost the final match to Uruguay, 2-1 so there is much at stake for Brazil socio-economically and for die-hard fans.”

Ryan Brown, a master’s student at Seattle University said he joined the study abroad program because it offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to examine topics discussed in class—from finance to operations and beyond—in the real world.

“On the pitch, the entire country expects Brazil to win the tournament on their home soil,” Mr. Brown said. “Off the pitch, Brazil has to justify the actual cost of hosting the tournament—it is a lot of pressure.”

Follow the World Cup with GW on Twitter with the hashtag #GWWorldCup2014 and track the students’ travel experience on Tumblr and Twitter.

Student Life, Brittney Dunkins