Manaus, Brazil, is a city of nearly 2 million people, surrounded by millions of square miles of rainforest. It had its heyday during Brazil’s late 19th-century rubber boom, and was revived in the 1960s by a military dictatorship worried about retaining control of the Amazon. Today, it is best known as a free trade zone, where businesses can receive a host of tax incentives for manufacturing products, and as a starting point for ecotourists to explore the jungle.
For a few weeks in June, the city will also be one of the homes of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. And that puts it at the epicenter of Brazil’s debate over whether hosting one of the world’s premier sporting events is worth the cost.
According to current estimates, the price tag for Brazil’s World Cup will be about $11.5 billion. That amount, combined with the bill for the 2016 Summer Olympics, which are scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro, has many Brazilians questioning whether their nation might have been better off spending its money on something else. Last year, the country was wracked by days of protests during the Confederations Cup, a pre-World Cup tournament, with protesters holding signs that read “Health and Education, Not the Cup.” "People are going hungry and the government builds stadiums," Eleuntina Scuilgaro, an 83-year-old protester. 
Perhaps no World Cup site exemplifies the extravagance of the tournament more than Manaus. Four games will take place in the city – including a match between the United States and Portugal on June 22 – located 900 miles up the Amazon River. Manaus is the only city in Brazil’s vast Amazon as state to play host, and its distance from the other host cities will cause some teams to log thousands of miles during the month-long tournament. (The U.S. will travel nearly 9,000 miles just for its three first-round games, according to an analysis by the online publication Quartz.) Most travel sites explicitly warn against attempting to reach the city by road.
The games will be played in the 42,000-seat Arena Amazonia, built specifically for the World Cup for about $300 million. Brazilian officials portray the stadium as an investment in developing Manaus’ economy. But according to experts, there’s good reason to doubt that the stadium – which won’t house a top-flight Brazilian soccer team once the World Cup is over – can drive development or tourism.
“There will be [another] World Cup four years from now, and everyone who is a World Cup tourist will have forgotten about Manaus and Brazil, and they’ll be traveling off to Russia,” explains Dennis Coates, an economics professor at the University of Maryland–Baltimore County. Plus, he says, Manaus is dealing with stiff competition from other sites within Brazil: “São Paolo, Rio – those areas are always going to be bigger tourist destinations, and there’s not a lot Manaus can do, and there’s not very much that a stadium can do, to change that effect.”

A vast amount of economic research, in fact, shows that sports stadiums do very little to boost tourism and economic development or employment and incomes. And the same results are found from the World Cup as a whole, even though organizers always promote the economic benefits of the event during the bidding process.
There are myriad reasons for this outcome, including consistent budget overruns, underestimated security costs and the reality that the tournament simply replaces spending tourists and locals would have done even in the absence of the World Cup. In fact, Moody’s Investors Service concluded that the World Cup “will have little lasting impact for most rated sectors in Brazil.” "Some hope hosting the World Cup will help lift Brazil out of economic slowdown, but the associated economic activity ultimately pales before the country's $2.2 trillion economy,” said Moody’s Investor Services Senior Analyst Barbara Mattos in a statement.
The tournament comes at a time when Brazil’s economy is in flux. Over the last few years, economic growth has slowed dramatically, dropping from 7.5 percent in 2010 to 0.9 percent in 2012, and rising only moderately to 2.3 percent in 2013. At the same time, over the last decade and a half, Brazil has seen poverty and income inequality reduced dramatically, according to statistics from the World Bank. “The government’s been so successful and the economy has been so successful, that I think they’ve raised expectations. A lot of poor people and working-class people and lower middle-class people think ‘Everything’s been going really well. Why are we wasting our money on this? Shouldn’t we put more money into the hospitals, the schools, the roads?’” says University of Massachusetts history professor Joel Wolfe.
The stadium in Manaus also has an unfortunate historical parallel. In the late 1800s when, thanks to Amazonian rubber, Manaus was “one of the gaudiest cities in the world,” as author David Grann put it in “The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon,” the city constructed an opera house that still stands today as a testament to unrestrained spending on cultural infrastructure. “It didn’t matter that almost no one from Manaus had heard of Puccini or that more than half the members of a visiting opera troupe eventually died of yellow fever,” wrote Grann. “This was the apotheosis of the rubber boom.”
Manaus’ stadium has also received scrutiny due to the deaths of three workers that occurred on the site, which is more construction deaths than occurred during all preparations for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Overall, at least eight workers have been killed during Brazil’s World Cup preparations.
With those downsides, why host the tournament at all? Part of the goal for Brazil was to step onto the world stage in a big way, much like Russia and China did when they used the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, respectively, for this purpose. “It’s all about announcing to the world ‘we are a major player,’” says Wolfe. “Brazil is constantly trying to assert that it’s arrived, economically, culturally, socially [and] politically.”
And there are the effects of hosting a big sporting event that don’t show up on the balance sheet. For instance, a study of the 2006 World Cup in Germany done by economist Wolfgang Maennig did not find large impacts on employment or income, but did find a significant “feelgood” effect for the German population. In essence, he found that playing host made Germans happy and helped them feel better about themselves. “Self-esteem, happiness, this is what the economy is for. … if the World Cup makes people happy, we should invest in a World Cup,” says Maennig. “But we should stop pretending that hosting a World Cup will make us rich. It’s not true.”
So it may be that Brazil – the most successful World Cup nation in history, with five titles – has only purchased an extravagant excuse to have a good time while watching “the beautiful game.” It remains to be seen whether the generally soccer-mad Brazilians will think that’s enough. 
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