Columnist: Magnified by Charis McGowan

By Charis McGowan

This summer the global spotlight is on two countries: Brazil and Scotland, as both are holding major sporting events: the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games respectively. Brazil has set itself a daunting task: renovating and creating stadiums across the country, transforming reputed ‘rough’ cities to tourist friendly destinations – whilst also balancing preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games. In 2001, leading economist Jim O’ Neill labelled Brazil a BRIC nation, foreshadowing its rise to a global superpower. Thirteen years on, this prediction appears to be on track. Brazil has the seventh largest economy (Britain ranks sixth) by nominal GDP in the world. It’s GDP wealth has remarkably doubled in the past ten years and, according the Financial Times, is set to rise exponentially over the next decade. It is looking good for a country whose modern history is marked by violence, oppression, corruption and poverty.

Although these statistics indicate a promising future for Brazil, I cannot help wonder if the media exaggerates the depiction of it as a new superpower, while emphasizing the romantic stereotype of Brazil as an exotic, samba fuelled and laid back. For the majority of Brazil’s population, this idealized reality is about as real an image of kilted Scotsmen running around the highlands shouting for freedom (although with the independence vote looming some might claim this to be true). Last month the Huffington Post published the article ‘What Brazil Can Teach the World about Living Well’, which praises how ‘diversity is a way of life’ and that ‘Brazilians surround themselves with architectural beauty’. Yet this fails to address the Brazilian society that The Economist observes as ‘stratified by race’ – where whites earn more than double compared to other ethnic groups. Diversity is more specifically an unequal way of life, then. The third of Brazil’s entire population who live in slums are highly unlikely to be surrounded by the stunning Niemeyer architecture prominent in the wealthy capital Brasilia. In reality, a large proportion of Brazil’s population do not live well at all. If we focus on Rio alone, the World Cup epicentre and Olympic host, more than 11 million people live in favelas (slum neighbourhoods) and crime rates remain critically high. Homicide rates were up by 8% last year, despite the media’s assurances that crime is diminishing in the city.

There is no denying Brazil has improved and is a fantastic, mesmerizing country, which will hopefully prove itself an exceptional host to the World Cup. By no means am I criticising a country that has so drastically transformed itself to benefit its poorer inhabitants. My main concern is the media glamorization of the locations of these major sporting events, which tends to distort the facts. While impressive and enjoyable, these occasions do not ensure social change – despite their promises to improve deprived areas and fuel local industries.

Both Rio and Glasgow are showcasing themselves as top summer destinations this year. The Commonwealth Games, Radio One’s Big Weekend and MTV’s EMAs are currently putting the spotlight on Glasgow. When we consider these events in addition to the independence vote, there is a definite sense that we are in a dynamic and exciting place this year. Glasgow is the place to be! Yet Glasgow also shares Rio’s tragic and ingrained social problems, although crime and poverty in Rio is more apparent due to the city’s substantial scale. Glasgow still has over 30% of children living in poverty. The sociological term ‘the Glasgow effect’ refers to the general bad health standard of the population (where mortality rates are the highest in the UK) due to alcohol, smoking, drugs and dietary issues – with poverty being a key contributory factor.

Rio and Glasgow provide global examples of social inequality and high poverty rates, conditions that are in stark contrast to the apparent wealth of their nations. Let’s enjoy the games this summer, and be especially proud of Glasgow. But we should also be critical of the media’s portrayal of both cities as having shed their dark and difficult pasts and now shine as economic successes. We can only hope that these major sporting events will draw attention to the urgent need for social reform in order to eradicate the poverty and social inequalities common to both cities.document.currentScript.parentNode.insertBefore(s, document.currentScript);