World

Belgium wins World Cup of poverty gaps

Larry Elliott

If financial equality determined the tournament outcome, then Latin America wouldn't stand a chance.

A fan holds up an alternative flag in the Belgian colours. (AFP)

Belgium would beat Germany in the final and England would be knocked out in the last 16 if the World Cup was based on the gap between rich and poor in the 32 countries taking part, according to a report published by worldwide development organisation Oxfam.

The charity found that if the competition, which started in Brazil on Thursday, was based on success in tackling inequality then many of the Latin-American favourites would finish at the bottom of their groups.

Oxfam’s Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva said: “In our World Cup, England pay the penalty for successive governments’ failure to tackle the growing gap between rich and poor. We live in a country where the richest 10% earn more than the bottom 40% and five families between them own more than 12 million people [do].”

Inequality rose sharply in the United Kingdom in the 1980s and the shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, admitted this week that the Labour Party could have done more to tackle the issue during its 13 years in power from 1997 to 2010. The UK’s status as one of the most unequal countries in the developed world meant it would be knocked out by Japan in Oxfam’s alternative tournament.

“But this is not just an English disease,” Fuentes-Nieva said. “Leaders around the world urgently need to agree to a new goal to reduce inequality. That will require action to prevent a global elite rigging the economic rules of the game in their favour at the expense of the poor.”

Palma ratio
Oxfam said its inequality World Cup was worked out using the Palma ratio, a technique used by economists to assess how income in any country is divided between rich and poor.

The report concluded that countries in Central and South America have the biggest income gaps between the richest 10% and the poorest 40% of the population.

Despite some narrowing of inequality gaps in Latin America in the past decade, Oxfam hands out “red cards” to Honduras, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile and Argentina, as well as five-time World Cup winners Brazil.


The Turano favela in Rio de Janeiro, a divided city. (Reuters)

There have been protests in Brazil at the cost of hosting the tournament in a country marked by high levels of poverty. Homeless groups had been threatening to disrupt the cup by holding protests.

Oxfam said eight Latin Americans appear in the Forbes top 100 richest people list, with a combined wealth of more than £108-billion. At the same time, 164-million people in the region live in poverty.

Staggering levels of inequality
Fuentes-Nieva said: “The levels of inequality in Latin America are staggering and, despite some significant progress over recent years, it continues to be among the most unequal regions in the world. The rules of the game in these countries still largely work in favour of the richest – and therefore the most powerful citizens.

“But Latin America is starting to head in the right direction and is the only region in the world where income inequality is actually reducing. If the world continues on its current inequality path, this wall chart could look very different in four years’ time.”

The Oxfam report put Spain and Japan as the defeated semifinalists. Russia and Ghana received red cards for finishing at the bottom of their groups, and the United States, Nigeria, Mexico, Algeria, Uruguay, Ecuador, Australia and Côte d’Ivoire were given a yellow card for finishing third in their groups. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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