Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Of Teachers and Footballers

Brazil is reeling from strikes, protest marches and simmering resentments over horrendous wealth and income inequality as it hosts teams from 32 countries and stages the planet’s largest sporting event: World Cup Football.

Brazil has so far spent an estimated $11 billion dollars to build stadiums and make ready the twelve cities where the matches will be played. Reports of outrageous bribery and corruption have left the population bitter and angry.

Among thousands of protesters throughout Brazil, one group stood out with its poignant chants and banners: About 200 striking school teachers who were demanding a 20 percent salary increase just to make ends meet. Their chant: "An educator is worth more than Neymar."

Neymar refers to Brazil’s 22-year-old star striker whose exceptional speed and dribbling ability have vaulted him into Football’s elite players. The Spanish Club Barcelona is reputed to have paid his Brazilian club Santos a staggering $138 million transfer fee to play in the Spanish league.

Forget, for a moment, Neymar’s transfer fee and just focus on his annual income. According to Forbes, Neymar pulled in a cool $20 million in the last 12 month through salary, bonus and endorsements.

Let’s put this in perspective.

Based on data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and national statistics agencies, the average annual salary of a Brazilian teacher is estimated to be $18,550.

From a purely monetary point of view, a Brazilian school teacher will have to work for over one thousand years to equal Neymar’s earnings! Equivalently, assuming that his earning remains constant (in fact, bonuses and endorsements increase yearly as a player’s star rises), Neymar earns the combined salary of over a thousand school teachers every year.

So the chant, “An educator is worth more than Neymar,” can only be metaphorically true.

How so?

Teachers shape minds, fire imagination, unleash creativity. Who can predict what their students will create and explore and discover? The magic of their creations and discoveries can transform the world. At least the possibility is there, and it is this elusive possibility that inspires teachers to pursue their passion in spite of society’s indifference to their remuneration. They are held in high regards, for sure, as high as doctors and engineers perhaps, but any society that is comfortable with teachers earning a small fraction of what doctors and engineers earn is a society rife with hypocrisy.

So yes, an educator is worth more than Neymar any day of the year, even if that educator struggles to put food on the table for his family.

If Brazil can win the World Cup (although it won the Cup 5 times, more than any other country, its last victory came in 2002), it is likely that the seething discontent of its football-crazed people will dissipate and some genuine economic, social and political progress will emerge.

If, on the other hand, Brazil makes an early exit from the joga bonito, riots and strikes can break out from the favelas and beyond and engulf the country. This will be particularly problematic considering that the summer 2016 Olympics is expected to be held in Rio de Janeiro from August 5-21.

It is against this frightening possibility that Neymar da Silva Santos Junior and company will have to fight as the green-and-yellow team embarks on its fateful journey on June 12. If the Brazilians can bring the Cup home, even the teachers, at least for the time being, may be inclined to overlook the inequality that has riven this fun-loving country.

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