Is there more to life than football?

“Transformar o Jogo Bonito em Vida Bonita”
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Launching the ball: Pelé (right) with Brazil’s minister of sport, Aldo Rebelo ©OECD

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death…
I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” This phrase by Bill Shankly, the legendary manager of Liverpool Football Club, has become immortal for football obsessives of the “beautiful game” (or o jogo bonito as Brazilians call soccer).

Few of us would go that far, but  football, and sport generally, are hugely important to people’s lives from all sorts of perspectives.

With the planet in its four-yearly bout of World Cup fever, it’s important to spare a thought for what happens when the final whistle blows, the game is over and the crowds go home. At the OECD, we’ve looked at “the day after”, the legacy of organising big sporting events. In 2010, before the London 2012 Olympics, we produced a review of the possible Olympic and Paralympic legacy for London, arguing that big events can make a positive, lasting contribution to their hosts if they build on strengths that are already there; you don’t have to start from scratch.

Making lives worth living in ways they would not have been lived otherwise is the core of the argument. Our partner foundation in Brazil, the Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV), has undertaken analysis on the impact of football on the socio-economic development of Brazil (FGV Projetos Cadernos 6/13 No 22). As with the Olympics, staging the World Cup is expensive. Brazil will have spent BRL26 billion (US$11 billion) on football stadiums and upgrades of airports, ports and urban mobility for the competition. But this accounts for only 0.7% of overall planned investment in Brazil in 2010-14 and most of the impact has already been felt, while for host cities and states, official estimates of World Cup-related spending range from just 0.24% to 12.75% of expected 2014 fiscal revenues.

Even so, US$11 billion is a huge sum of money, and millions of Brazilians who have emerged from poverty in recent years may think it excessive to spend that much on football. With a growing lower middle class that pays taxes, demand for better education, health and transport is only going to increase. According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, over 60% of the population thinks hosting the event is a bad thing for the country because it takes money away from schools, health care and other public services.

The question of what makes life worth living, of how best to balance competing interests, capacities and objectives, is one that governments are trying to answer all the time. The OECD’s stated aim is to help develop “Better Policies for Better Lives”, but we know that, like football fans debating the greatest team of all time–Brazil 1970? Real Madrid 1960?–there’s no definitive answer. Therefore it is important to give citizens, voters and taxpayers the information and the voice to empower them to communicate to policymakers and shapers all over the world their opinion about what counts for them.

To do so, we launched O Índice para uma Vida Melhor, the Portuguese version of the OECD’s Better Life Index, on 9 June, with footballing legend Pelé, Brazil’s Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo and our partners for O Índice, the FGV. The online index enables citizens the world over to create their index of well-being and quality of life according to what is important to them. These include not only material aspects such as income, jobs and housing, but also quality of life aspects such as sense of community, education, environment, governance, health, safety, work-life balance and, last but not least, life satisfaction or a sense of happiness. Currently the index captures data for 36 countries worldwide and this number is set to increase over time.

Since its launch in 2011, more than 4 million people in 184 countries have used the OECD Better Life Index, which has been referenced internationally as a model for presenting material on measuring well-being. Portuguese will be the sixth language version, enabling over 250 million more people to access the index in their mother tongue, as is currently the case for English, Spanish, French, German and Russian speakers.

We have chosen the World Cup in Brazil as the ideal moment to launch the online global multilingual campaign “Is there #more2life than football?” to raise awareness across the globe on what really matters to people in their daily lives, what constitutes well-being and quality of life in the 21st century.

For Matias Deodato de Castro e Melo, a character in one of Brazilian writer Machado de Assis’ Histórias sem Data (Stories Without a Date), “a felicidade é um par de botas”–happiness is a pair of boots. After o jogo bonito, it’s time to build a vida bonita.

Adapted from a blog published on, 9 June 2014


OECD (2013), “After the final: Reflections on South Africa’s soccer World Cup”, Interview with Nhlanhla Musa Nene, Deputy Minister of Finance, South Africa, in OECD Observer No 296, Q3.

OECD (2010), Local Development Benefits from Staging Global Events: Achieving the Local Development Legacy from 2012, OECD Publishing.

Economic data

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Unemployment: 7.3% Sep 2020
Last update: 10 Nov 2020

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