Friday, October 24th, 2014

Fact-checks about FIFA and the World Cup

A boy plays soccer on Iracema Beach in Fortaleza, Brazil, on the eve of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Getty photo.
A boy plays soccer on Iracema Beach in Fortaleza, Brazil, on the eve of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Getty photo.

After seven years of preparation and billions spent on new stadiums and infrastructure, the wait is over: The 2014 FIFA World Cup is on in Brazil.

The month-long international soccer tournament is a mega event with teams from 32 countries squaring off in matches played in 12 venues around Brazil, which is bigger than the contiguous United States.

The World Cup comes every four years, drawing intense interest and discussion. We've found a few claims in recent days that we couldn't resist fact-checking.

John Oliver on Brazil as host

Comedian John Oliver made some factual claims during an epic rant against soccer’s governing body, known as FIFA, in his June 8 show. The Last Week Tonight host targeted Brazil’s massive spending, the focus of protest for some Brazilians, and cast FIFA as a heavy-handed organization that interferes with host country laws to please sponsors.

One project that epitomizes World Cup waste more than any other, Oliver argued, is a new 42,000-seat stadium in a riverside city within the Amazon rainforest. It cost more than $300 million and sits on the site of an older, smaller stadium.

The host city of Manaus is so far off the beaten path, and so hard to access by road, that stadium materials were shipped by boat from Portugal and up through the Amazon River.

"Okay, that does seem like a waste of money, especially when you consider that that stadium is only going to be used for four World Cup games," Oliver said. "There’s also no team in Manaus that can fill it afterwards, at which point it becomes the world’s most expensive bird toilet."

Really? Just four games?

Really. A local team will use the stadium, but there’s no chance of it routinely filling up with the crowds that will come for the four World Cup matches. The U.S. team plays Portugal in the Arena Amazonia on June 22, by the way. PunditFact rated his claim True.

Brazil had to do a lot of changing in order to handle the crowds arriving for the World Cup, spending billions to improve roads, airports and arenas. The country also had to do away with a prohibition on booze at soccer matches to appease FIFA requirements, Oliver claimed.

"The amazing thing is here FIFA won. They successfully pressured Brazil into passing a so-called Budweiser bill, allowing beer sales in soccer stadiums," Oliver said. "And at this point you can either be horrified by that or relieved that FIFA was not also sponsored by cocaine and chainsaws."

As deaths from violence at soccer matches mounted, the Brazilian government passed a law in 2003 that banned alcohol sales at stadiums. But FIFA is sponsored by Budweiser and interested in profits from beer sales, so the prohibition had to go (but only for the World Cup).

President Dilma Rousseff signed a World Cup-related bill into law in June 2012. The bill that passed actually did not explicitly authorize beer sales at the matches, but government leaders said it allowed Brazil to lift the alcohol ban during the World Cup month, per FIFA’s demand.

On tap is Budweiser and Brahma -- in plastic cups. PunditFact rated this claim True.

Pelosi on the men's team and immigration

After the United States’ thrilling 2-1 victory on June 16, 2014, over Ghana, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made an immigration reform push by invoking the U.S. Men’s National Team.

She tweeted: "Immigrants help drive America's success, even in the World Cup! Look at what #USMNT would be without them. #TimeIsNow." By Thursday evening, it had been retweeted and favorited almost 1,000 times. The photo showed that 11 players on the U.S. Men’s National Team are immigrants.

We looked into the players' individual backgrounds, though, and that none of those 11 players are immigrants. They were all born with U.S. citizenship, and some aren’t even the children of immigrants. The post came from a site that considered whether the players had a foreign-born parent. But that doesn't support Pelosi's tweet. PolitiFact rated her statement False.

The 2022 World Cup host: Qatar

Four years ago, Qatar emerged triumphant when FIFA voted to hold the 2022 World Cup in the oil and gas rich emirate. Qatar’s bid involved massive construction plans for new stadiums, rail lines and virtually an entire new city. But some criticized the pick of Qatar, because of alleged bribery and mistreatment of workers.

ESPN host Jeremy Schaap went to Doha to investigate allegations of laborers who find themselves toiling in brutal heat, dying in accidents and locked into jobs with no way to get back home because their passports had been confiscated.

"We're talking about a country that can afford to do better," Schaap said on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. Schaap noted that per capita, Qatar is the richest nation in the world.

"Qataris don't really work. They don't have to work," Schaap said, claiming that the Qatari government offers generous benefits for the unemployed.

Schaap’s statement that Qataris "don’t really work" struck us as worth learning more about.

After we asked about it, Schaap clarified his statement, saying he should have specified that he was thinking of work on construction sites, and even with that caveat, his claim went a bit too far.

Official reports show that most Qataris of working age do work and hold a variety of jobs. In one way or another, the government provides nearly all these jobs but people still need to show up to get paid. A small fraction of the construction workforce is Qatari. The risks for foreign workers are real, but that is separate from Schaap’s assertion. PunditFact rated his statement False.