The World Cup hasn’t even started, yet potential winners and losers have already appeared — albeit not necessarily on the soccer field itself. Spain, the defending champion, tops the list of countries that will give their players the highest bonus package for clinching the title in Brazil. The Spanish Football Federation confirmed that each player will receive a juicy bonus totaling €720,000 (almost $1 million) if they are able to lift the trophy on July 13. The total amount represents a 20% increase, or €120,000 per player, over what they were handed for winning the last World Cup held in South Africa in 2010. These numbers that have been thrown around in recent days have not gone over well in a country still suffering the consequences of the euro crisis.
The high reward amount is especially outstanding since it’s more than double what the Brazilians or Germans would get if they were to win it all, making Spain the winner in the unofficial ‘bonus package league’ of the Cup. Players from the hosting country would each get €330,000 ($448,000) and the Germans, the largest economy in Europe, would receive €300,000 ($408,000) if they are the winners. On their behalf, the English squad are promised to receive £350,000 (around $588,000) each for winning the tournament. FIFA has also confirmed that they would give the World Cup winning nation a prize of €27 million ($37 million), that is a 37% increase than what was awarded in South Africa (this amount doesn’t include what each country also receives by their numerous sponsors).
That Spain’s bonus is the most lucrative of any nation at the World Cup is ironic (to say the least) since the country is suffering several economic and social sicknesses. The unemployment rate, at 25.1% in April according to Eurostat, is the second-highest in the European Union. Over one million people in Spain — the eurozone’s fourth largest economy — haven’t had a job since 2010, when Spain lifted the trophy, the Spanish statistics agency recently said. Poverty levels are increasing by the minute and child poverty has risen three percentage points to 21% against an E.U. average of 13%, according to the OECD. The International Monetary Fund, one of the main promoters of austerity reforms in Spain, says the gap between rich and poor has grown faster in the country since the economic crisis begun in 2008 than in any other country in Europe.
A recent Human Rights Watch report said “the Spanish government has taken insufficient action to alleviate the impact of the housing and debt crisis in Spain on vulnerable groups.” Tens of thousands of families have faced, or are currently facing, foreclosure on homes they bought at the height of Spain’s economic boom, when irresponsible lending made mortgages easy to come by, the organization added. Spanish society has had to foot the bill of the reforms-all-around policy — yet the soccer stars seem to be exempt from it.
While a handful of members of Spanish parliament have raised their voices against the bonus package the players will receive, nobody from the government has expressed their concern. They are likely calculating that the national frenzy around a win will erase an ill will over the big bonus packages. Also, as important, the championship will take over the national debate which is equal to less attention to them, the politicians, and to the harsh reality stemming from the economic crisis. The Roman poet and satirist Juvenal decried the use of bread and circuses to numb civic outrage. Spain is betting the circuses alone will do the trick.