Gobar Times
Open Forum

Playing with sustainability

Last month, while the poll buzz grew steadily louder in India, the attention of the world was focussed on the big games. On centrestage was the coastal city of Sochi in Russia, where world-class athletes from around the globe battled it out at the Winter Olympics 2014. Now, the Black Sea resort town is gearing up for the last leg, the Winter Paralympic Games.

Come June, three million football fans will descend on 12 cities in Brazil, adding pressure on the city’s already creaking transport and civic amenities. Will Brazil rise like a star or crumble under the pressure of hosting an international sporting event like the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™?

These two mega games seem to be as opposite as the seasons they will be held in. If news reports are to be believed, Brazil is coming out on top vis-a-vis sustainability and human rights. While Russia has been failing from point go. What’s the story?

A winter in Russia
The recently concluded Winter Olympics 2014 in Sochi, Russia was the most expensive Olympic games in history. Well, a seaside stadium to resemble a shell reminiscent of Faberge art cannot come cheap, can it? It did not. It cost close to US $603.5 million to build! And that is just one stadium! Add to this a US $9 billion 30-mile highway, a rail project linking the Black Sea with ski resorts in the Caucus Mountains, and a ski slope that is six times over budget. What do you think the grand total would be? It is estimated at US $51 billion.

image But what was more shocking than the monetary cost involved were the allegations. Of environmental destruction; abuse of migrant workers and residents;ill-treatment of press people and numerous corruption charges marred the whole event. Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international organisation that investigates human rights violations, has a list of instances of misconduct by the Russian authorities:

• Some 2,000 families were relocated to make way for the Olympic Games infrastructure. In some cases, they received no compensation and lost all their agricultural land, which is the only source of livelihood for most families there.

•  A high-speed rail network and a new road, constructed along the Mzymta River destroyed the local ecosystem of the area. This adversely affected the Sochi National Park nearby. And residents of the village of Akhshtyr say they have been without water for a year since construction began. Construction waste was illegally and haphazardly dumped and power lines set up with no prior planning. This caused landslides in the area, destroying homes and property.

•  Sochi was transformed from a sleepy summer resort to multi-billion dollar Olympic venue on the backs of over 70,000 migrant workers. HRW alleges that most of these workers were not paid wages and had to toil for up to 12 hours a day, with only one day off in a month. In a highly publicised case, one migrant worker sewed his mouth shut in protest on the sidelines of the Opening Ceremony. He had, allegedly, not been paid in months.

The Russian government was already proving to be iron fisted with its censorship laws and civil society crackdown. These allegations marred what could have been Russia’s ticket to portray itself as a liberal, modern-minded state with a global perspective.

What does the world make of Russia’s tainted Olympic Games?

imageViva Brasilia
To football fans around the world, the FIFA World Cup is what Oscars are to Hollywood buffs. The stars come out to shine and the celebration lingers on till much after the month long, 12-city footie extravaganza is over. This year, 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ is also in focus for being the first FIFA World Cup with an elaborate sustainability strategy. What is the strategy, you ask?

The ball is in your court
In a detailed document (that you will find on the official FIFA World Cup 2014 website, if you are keen to know), FIFA and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) vow to ‘deliver a sustainable event in Brazil in 2014’. And how do they make sure the millions of fans pouring into Brazil’s cities would not paralyse the transport system? Or shut down the water and energy network? Or destroy the indigenous ecosystem?

Building on the experience gained from environmental and social development programmes executed at FIFA tournaments since 2005, and keeping in mind the international standards such as ISO 26000 and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), FIFA and LOC have teamed up to:

• Build a light rail system to keep the masses moving. Plus, there are plans to build on Brazil’s new law that requires 3,000 cities to create people-centered public transport networks by 2015. Brazil already has one of the world’s few successful bus-rapid-transit (BRT) systems in 100 cities that carry more than 12 million passengers per day.

• The 12 host cities are getting ‘sustainable’ stadiums. And how are their sustainability quotient being fortified? Recycled material is going into constructing stadiums with mixed-use design, large solar power generation systems and rain water harvesting systems are being installed. Then to ensure that the field systems are operated effectively, certified training courses on sustainable management for stadium managers are also being planned.

•  When millions of tourists enter the city, what is the one thing you know they will produce for sure? Waste. Brazil’s new waste guidelines propose how to manage and dispose of growing volumes of municipal waste.

•  Naturally, climate change is within FIFA’s radar. There is a separate report on the carbon emissions of FIFA World Cup. And of course, there are plans on reducing them.

image Sounds a bit too perfect, right? Well, that is what more than 2,000 people, who took to the streets to call for a boycott of the World Cup, also felt. Apparently, their government has borrowed millions to build stadiums, while schools and hospitals decay in neglect. But the hope is that like the many countries that have seen a boost in the economy after hosting a big sporting event such as the Olympics, Brazil will also see some trade, tourism and development dollars come its way.

We will have to wait to see what the world – comprising the three million visitors and the 3.2 billion World Cup television viewers – would walk away with. 


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Playing with sustainability