Cole Howard on Travels


Imagine the Super Bowl: hundreds of thousands of fans, barbecues, house parties, etc. It is practically a national holiday in the U.S. and our country’s attention to it seems unparalleled. Now take the size of that public following and multiply it by twenty. What do you get? The World Cup. This behemoth of an athletic competition is the most widely viewed sporting event in the world. During the 2010 World Cup, an estimated 800 million viewers watched the final match worldwide. Meanwhile, in the stadiums, “over three quarters of a million litres of beer were sold” (that’s 25,360,500 ounces of ale for you not-so-metric-friendly readers).

What happens when you take the biggest sporting event in the world and place it in arguably the most soccer-crazy country on the planet?

Before we discuss that question, here’s some relevant context: Brazil has won five of the nineteen Cups and is the only country in the world that has participated in every single one. Brazil’s passion for soccer is so intense that after losing the final match to Uruguay in 1950, the only other year they hosted the event, the country went into a national depression. Literally some fans committed suicide. Seriously.  Look it up.

Now, back to business.  What happens when you take the biggest sporting event in the world and place it in arguably the most soccer-crazy country on the planet? What do you get? A nonstop party? That is what the media would suggest, and they may actually be correct. But who is this massive party for? With military takeovers in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, massive-scale protests throughout the nation, and implications of dramatic increases in human trafficking, there are endless complications presenting themselves as Brazil prepares to host this event. The aforementioned issues represent just a few of the headlines related to what is occurring on the event grounds. But to really know what is happening outside of the stadiums, it is necessary to have someone strategically placed, outside of the stadiums.

My desire to gain this perspective gave me an idea: I want to document stories related to local communities and human rights and examine how they are intertwined within the context of the World Cup’s events. There will be an immense amount of media related to the Cup coming out of Brazil this summer, however, most of it will be centered on the field – on the fans and on the sport.  This idea, this project, intends to find and document stories that would largely be left out of the mainstream media – stories that focus on the human component, stories that exist on the margins of society.

When we think of an event with the kind of grandeur of the World Cup, we see the spectacle, and not necessarily the people behind, or on the outskirts of the spectacle’s glow. For example, in thinking of the excitement surrounding the 2014 World Cup, one might not stop to think about how locals, who cannot afford a ticket to the event, will gain access to the games. Will those citizens feel the same national pride that is commonly portrayed in the mainstream media, despite their lack of access? Or will they see themselves as excluded from an event that is more geared towards wealthy tourists? Will the Brazilian public take up massive protests again like they did the year prior? And if so, will the Brazilian police respond as violently as they did before with this increased foreign presence? Will the 2014 World Cup be like the last nineteen, where all we see are sports highlights and wild fans? Or will this year bring us something different?  Will this year bring us an in-depth view of the positives as well as the negatives that this event will ultimately bring to the hosts of this mega-event? These questions, among countless others, is at the heart of my desire to return to Brazil.

Last summer I spent nine weeks in Rio de Janeiro researching how underground economies are affected by major sporting events. Studying in Brazil gave me the opportunity to meet academics, activists, journalists, and citizens.  My experiences opened up to me a broader understanding of the changes that are currently unfolding in the contexts of events like the World Cup. Though my time in Brazil was rich with learning and experience, there is still so much more for me to discover.  And so, it’s time I go back.  That’s where you come in. The impact of events like the World Cup deserves attention beyond the global excitement they provide.  Help me give voices to the stories we don’t hear about.  Help me give voices to the people whose lives are impacted by this massive event.  Help me draw the world a little closer together by seeking out the voices we so rarely get to hear.

If you would like to contribute to the cause, check out the Indiegogo campaign!