Red card for film that glorifies Fifa

Sam Neill as João Havelange and Tim Roth as Sepp Blatter in a scene from 'United Passions'. (LMKMEDIA)

Sam Neill as João Havelange and Tim Roth as Sepp Blatter in a scene from 'United Passions'. (LMKMEDIA)

This you have to understand: the world is full of racists, chauvinists, Nazis, fascists and sneering Englishmen who think 13 rules are plenty to have in football, all of whom need to be taught a lesson. Into this world was born Fifa, a scrappy but noble football federation of heroic sports administrators who did more for world peace than the United Nations and more for tolerance than all the recipients of the Nobel Peace prize put together.

Also, Sepp Blatter – that hard-working, incorruptible warrior – makes girls play better football.

If you have fully grasped these concepts you have no real need to watch United Passions, the Fifa-funded movie about Fifa that Fifa launched at the Cannes film festival in May 2014 and in Serbia the month after.

Perhaps Fifa underestimated just how well beloved it already is, when it made a movie at the cost of just about a full year of its development funding for education, women’s and youth football (around $30-million), and perhaps that great public love is why American audiences disregarded it on its release in that country last week, leading to gross ticket receipts of $918 in its opening weekend.

Those who don’t yet fully comprehend the greatness of Fifa, though, are in for a treat. Here are some of the highlights from the movie that the Hollywood Reporter calls “a cringeworthy, self-aggrandising affair that mainly benefits from its unintentional camp value”.

It is 1998, and Sepp Blatter (played by English actor Tim Roth, perhaps better known as Mr Orange in Reservoir Dogs), newly elected Fifa president, is laying down the law.

“Now the next tournament will take place in both South Korea and Japan, far from Europe,” Blatter tells a Fifa meeting. “Some of you may feel that this is a good opportunity to close lucrative deals with certain lobbies.

“Think again. This sport is spotless. There is simply a lot more money involved now. Which is why, from now on, we’ll be exemplary in all respects. The slightest breach of ethics will be severely punished ... I am warning you. All of you. We will play by my rules now.”

All present are suitably cowed, and corruption – not that there ever was any, but presuming there had been – is stamped out forever.

It is 1925 and Uruguayan diplomat Enrique Buero has a pitch for Fifa’s first president, Jules Rimet.

“We have considerable financial resources in Uruguay,” Buero tells Rimet over tea. “In five years’ time Uruguay will celebrate its 100th anniversary and we would like to mark the occasion by organising the first world football championship.”

Rimet is dubious. “But an event like that costs a fortune!” he exclaims.

“Yes, but we are prepared to pay.”

“Fifa is poor, but that doesn’t mean we will sell the one treasure we possess: honour.”

“Please don’t misunderstand me. We would not want to buy anything. Let’s just say we would be especially honoured to have this competition. We have ... unlimited funds ... unlimited. You need the money, we need a world championship. Let’s do business.”

And so, having made it clear that Fifa is not for sale, Rimet and Buero shake hands, and the World Cup is born.

Why, exactly, Rimet subsequently tells his compatriots that the World Cup will be held in “a country yet to be determined” and seems surprised when that country turns out to be Uruguay is not entirely clear.

It is 1929 and an opinionated American character credited only as “Larsen” corners Annette Rimet, daughter of Fifa president Jules, at a party.

Why, demands Larsen, is the first World Cup being held in Uruguay, “a country no one has ever heard of, which is a stranger to modernity? And why not at the tip of Africa with the Zulus while we’re at it?”

Annette, bless her progressive if ever-so-slightly condescending heart, retorts: “Why not? Indeed. Who knows, the Zulus may be excellent football players. Maybe they just don’t know it yet.”

But Larsen is not to be deterred. “But young lady, the natives of Africa are stupid and undisciplined. It’s just their nature. How could they possibly be expected to appreciate the subtleties of a game invented by whites?”

Mercifully, Daddy Rimet interrupts, and the two Rimets give the nasty American a proper scolding before flouncing off to go lay the groundwork that would allow their spiritual successor, Sepp Blatter, to single-handedly bring the World Cup to Africa.

It is 2002. Having fondled the World Cup trophy for inspiration, and having defied those in Fifa telling unspecified lies about him, Blatter hangs around the outskirts of an extraordinary Fifa elective conference in Seoul.

Blatter looks soulfully at himself in a mirror. Blatter walks through a lobby in slow motion. Blatter smiles at himself as he walks down a corridor. Blatter strides into a room, presidentially. Blatter smiles as he is again elected Fifa president. Blatter gets a standing ovation.

In this way – although the exact mechanism of action is not explained – Blatter causes a girl playing goalie in an otherwise all-boy game in an unspecified slum to snap out of her dismal performance, dribble the ball all the way from her own goal line, shoot, and score.

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet writes about politics, society, economics, and the areas where these collide. He has never been anything other than a journalist, though he has been involved in starting new newspapers, magazines and websites, a suspiciously large percentage of which are no longer in business. PGP fingerprint: CF74 7B0F F037 ACB9 779C 902B 793C 8781 4548 D165 Read more from Phillip de Wet


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