'Corruption you say? Kiss my ball(s)'
It's the first of our, let's call them 'anticipated', World Cup previews. We were going to do the positive one first, but we thought 'sod it', which before you start moaning is exactly the attitude you'll have too once you've finished with this one.
First things first – I am VERY excited about the World Cup. I am actively looking forward to it taking over my life for a month because it is, in simple terms, the biggest footballing event in the world bar absolutely nothing at all ever. But, and this is a pretty significant but, it’s also an event of huge controversy, multi-million if not billion profits for all but those it imposes itself upon, the biggest of big business and, if allegations made against the ‘democracy’ of the selection process for host nations, the most morally corrupt thing since the ‘Guardian Sport Network’.
Let’s explore these corruption allegations for a minute. It’s been suggested that the voting process for awarding Qatar the World Cup in 2022 was as dubious as the concept of a deadline is around Magic Spongers HQ. Frankly – and it’s been said before – if there ISN’T something incredibly dodgy about awarding the World Cup to a fucking desert with more of a resemblance to Hell than a suitable football environment; if there AREN’T huge sums of money involved and the FIFA family actually think this is a GOOD idea, then we might as well shut up shop and go home right now.
Not a reassuring thought either way, but let’s press on all the same.
Here are some fucking ludicrous things FIFA have done/are doing:
• In Brazil, they’ve seen to it that a law overturning a stadium ban on alcohol originally established in 2003 because of high DEATH rates among fans has been passed – a key sponsor of the World Cup is Budweiser; • In South Africa in 2010, they decided to branch out into justice and forced the creation of a 56 ‘FIFA World Cup courts’ – and, according to this Guardian article, in an example eerily reminiscent of a shit Craig David song, ‘two Zimbabweans who robbed some foreign journalists on a Wednesday, were arrested on the Thursday, and began 15-year jail sentences on the Friday’
• In Brazil, they’re considering doing something similar;
• They insist they’re a non-profit organisation, but have approximately $3bn in assets and $1.4bn ‘in reserve’, of which $750k has gone to associations and $7mn to confederations;
• They’ve awarded a World Cup to Qatar (see above), a state in which exit visas allowing poorly-paid migrant workers to leave must be verified by their employer;
• They’ll take most of the money away from the Brazil World Cup – the country will make very little, if anything – and even less given the fact that FIFA and its subsidiaries are fully exempt from any tax; gaining an extra $250mn;
• They contributed $16mn of the $19mn needed to film a fictionalised version of their own history – the appallingly named ‘United Passions’ (not a porno) – and now seem utterly obsessed with moving to that particular fantasy land, living there, and pretending that everything is absolutely fine. Not only that, but it stars Tim Roth as Sepp Blatter, a set of circumstances so absurd that it would be funny if I wasn’t busy feeling sick.
And that’s kind of the point. It WOULD be funny if it wasn’t so disturbing – and in so many reports Blatter and FIFA are cast as comical, rather than dangerous. Last night, for example, he was widely quoted as saying the World Cup would eventually be ‘inter-planetary, which you can bet your life will be widely reported today, way ahead of his apparent confusion of ‘duty’ to the game with profiteering at the expense of those who love it the most.
Add in the sad scenes of wide-scale protests, baton-whacking coppers, and those forced to strike to get their voices heard above the World Cup din and you begin to feel guilty about how stupidly excited you are about the next month’s football when you realise the billions spent by the Brazilian government (the budget for the tournament was $13.3bn, according to Americas Quarterly) could have been better spent on health, education, infrastructure and social projects.
Most of us, and I include myself in this, are swept away in a tide of childish euphoria and focus solely on the football, as if watching the men whose lives could not be further from those whose country they are touring is to somehow avoid the problems inherent in even THAT misnomer and be wrapped up in the purity of the sport.
But we do – because we’re in love with the game and when you’re in love with something you overlook the lows because the highs are worth it. And that magical move, that ridiculous goal, that compelling 90 minutes is too much for us. Such is football’s enduring power. That, and the fact that we all fell in love with the game in a simpler age, or at least one when our biggest priority in life was getting the Cameroon shiny in your sticker book rather than social justice and toppling endemic corruption, means we are all too far gone once we hit the responsible adult stage. In short, we’re hooked.
Perhaps most of us ignore the FIFA problem because there isn’t actually a solution. The British press and associations don’t like Blatter; Europe are a bit iffy on him, but the rest of FIFA’s dreadfully sycophantic family have few problems – and, at risk of sounding cynical, there’s no individual confederation with pockets deep enough, or balls big enough, to stop him.
After Blatter’s only challenger for the presidency in 2011, Mohamed bin Hammam, had been suspended, David Bernstein argued that the election should be postponed rather than proceeding to a vote. It wasn’t and Blatter was, farcically, elected unopposed. Those murmuring their discontent now will find it an even more gargantuan challenge to stay the course.
‘It’s not worth it’, we might well say in the face of such nonsense. ‘The World Cup’s going to happen anyway and there’ll always be a host nation and there’ll always be payment and stuff we’ll never see’.
Only there might not always be a host nation (and I don’t mean because Blatter wants a World Cup on Jupiter, or whatever (though obviously that’s impossible)), at least not a host nation as we know it. That’s why this World Cup, when I start to think about it, invokes a higher fear:excitement ratio that any other before it. ‘The home of football’ – excitement rating 10. ‘The next two are in Russia and Qatar’ – fear rating 11. It’s exciting BECAUSE there won’t be another World Cup like it for a while. And the reason there won’t be another World Cup like it, one that speaks to us as football fans on an ideological, almost mythological level, for a while because as Blatter ominously pointed out in what we’ll call the ‘inter-planetary speech’, football is now a ‘multi-billion dollar’ industry, with ‘powerful opportunities’.
The real kick in the swingers is that we’re the ones who’ve made it this way – or at least, football fans around the world have. The World Cup isn’t the only competition with these problems, nor is Brazil the only country they will affect – almost nowhere do fans have a say about where the game's riches go. FIFA is the worst of a bad bunch, but the reason this World Cup feels so important – and remember, it’s part excitement, part subconscious dread – is because the game is bigger business than ever and denying that is becoming tougher.
I can’t say in all seriousness that the World Cup is awful, as the title of this piece suggests, because I honestly can’t wait for it to start (maybe a more apt title would have been ‘FIFA is awful’ but we were too sensationalist to bother changing it. Such is the state of modern journalism eh). But I can safely say that it’s more conflicting and less innocent than ever.