You may have heard there is a World Cup going on in Brazil right now. And depending on which news sources you’ve been following, you may have also heard there is much more to this World Cup than sport.

But it’s not just the World Cup: the Summer Olympics will come to Brazil in 2016, and many of the same injustices of the 2014 World Cup remain very much in play for the 2016 Olympiad.

All of these issues may be hard to put into context, especially from a continent away – but that’s why we’ve developed a Global Exchange Reality Tour to Brazil to witness and learn about them firsthand.

For the World Cup alone, 14 billion dollars have been spent out of Brazilian taxpayers’ pockets while FIFA, the corrupt, dictatorial, and ever-secretive governing body for international soccer, will escape from the event with 4 billion dollars in revenue tax-free.

Some of these billions of taxpayer dollars have been used to build or renovate World Cup stadiums up to “FIFA standards” that will sit idle or offensively underused after the World Cup, rather than building badly needed schools and hospitals in a country that is still very much developing.

The cost has not just been monetary: 8 workers have died in the fevered rush to complete stadiums on time and up to FIFA’s standards, attempting to make up for delays in red tape, bureaucracy, and inefficiency.

Through all of this has been the continued endorsement of the event by major U.S. corporations, as well as hordes of foreign tourists who have flocked to the shores and cities of Brazil by the hundreds of thousands, many of whom are pleasantly unaware of the true realities of these mega sporting events.

Overall, more than 30 billion dollars will be spent on producing both the World Cup and Olympics in Brazil in the face of poverty, inequality, and widespread social issues. Hundreds of thousands of marginalized, low-income favela residents have been forcefully evicted from their homes and communities to make room for sport-related infrastructure projects.

Meanwhile, police violence and the militarization of public space have attempted to combat deep-seated societal issues at their surface symptoms rather than their underlying causes. The state of Rio de Janeiro’s hallmark “pacification” program, developed after Brazil won its World Cup and Olympic bids and designed to both drive out drug cartels from favelas and finally incorporate favelas into city grids, is now being questioned and criticized openly as violence increases and human rights abuses by police continue.

Despite old claims that mega-sporting events like the World Cup and Olympics bring long-term economic gains to host countries, recent studies have shown that this idea is actually false. The games benefit a small circle of people at the top, while the rest of the country experiences no such gains.

The organization of Brazilian civil society in opposition to the World Cup despite their national obsession with soccer is the most telling sign of just how far off this mega-sporting event has become. That 60% of Brazilians feel that the World Cup is bad for the country in a population as soccer-crazed as Brazil is nothing short of remarkable.

While Brazil was booming economy during the first decade of the 21st century and the country continues to assert itself as a growing player on the geopolitical world stage, some important underlying issues in Brazilian society persist: poverty, a wide gap between rich and poor, a deep need for better education, schools and hospitals, a perverse presence of corruption within all ranks of government, damning environmental realities, and some of the world’s highest rates of violent crime. Some indicators have seen improvements in the last decade, but hardly enough to shrug them off as solved. And despite the country’s firestorm rate of economic growth in the new millennium, this growth has slowed considerably in the last few years.

With a Global Exchange Reality Tour, you can experience this other side to the World Cup and Olympics first-hand. See the opportunity-cost of these mega-events in person and gain a better understanding of the true impacts they have on host countries – particularly developing countries. De-stigmatize the perception of favelas by interacting with their residents and observing the sustainable nature of their development, while discovering why a favela is a favela and not a slum or shantytown, as they are often jointly referred to as in Western media.

Photo: Catalytic Communities

Photo: Catalytic Communities

Witness firsthand the areas of forced removals and bulldozed homes in the name of sport, directly next the legendary Maracanã stadium and the planned Olympic Village in Rio. Dialogue with community leaders, favela activists, and local NGO’s fighting for their rights and standing up against the powerful interests of FIFA, the IOC, foreign corporations, the Brazilian government, and wealthy developers. Get a glimpse of a burgeoning nation-wide social movement, both inside and outside of the favelas, that may continue to push Brazilian society towards reform, transparency, and better governance.

Then move away from the city lights and urban plights to visit an MST camp (Landless Workers Movement) outside of the city of Rio to learn about one of the most successful social movements in the entire world. See how this amazing group continues to work towards – and win – rural reform victories, in an outnumbered fight against powerful agribusiness interests and deep-seated historical land inequalities, a legacy of aristocratic land-holdings and marginalization of low-income land workers.

We may indeed look back and see that the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics stood on the crux between an old and a new. Like in the Middle East, we are witnessing the rise of a burgeoning civil society in Brazil that is young, tech savvy, and fed up with business as usual. The injustices of the World Cup and Olympics have forced long-standing social issues in Brazil into the limelight like never before and have instigated a larger social movement that may not fade once the competitions are over. And it us now offering us the chance, as a global community, to re-think and adjust our approach to the way we go about producing, thinking about, and discussing these mega-sporting events.

All that being said, it’s quite a time to visit Brazil on a Reality Tour.