/ 27 June 2013

Sepp’s World Cup plan takes a dive

Sepp's World Cup Plan Takes A Dive

It may be a little early to call this, what with several days of the Confederations Cup and an entire World Cup to run, but there's a nagging sense that Fifa president Sepp Blatter is somewhat miscast as a Brazilian counter-revolutionary.

At the time of writing, Fifa had yet to request covert support from the CIA in the form of arms shipments and financial backing. But with protests in Brazil continuing to make the most explicit of links between the money the country's government has spent on Fifa tournaments and the money it hasn't spent on less uplifting things such as healthcare and education, Herr Blatter finds his usual arsenal increasingly wanting.

What is he to do, for instance, about the most prevalent slogan of the ongoing protests: "Fifa-standard”, which applies the language of the World Cup bid to the comparatively unfavourable quality of Brazilian public services? 

In any normal circumstances, Blatter would simply sue the placard waver for unauthorised use of the Fifa imprimatur, but even his army of Zurich lawyers might struggle to persuade a court that demands for a functional transport system count as "ambush marketing”.

Before the massive protest planned for Sunday's Confederations Cup final, for which Blatter's personal security detail seems to be mounting by the minute, the ironies are piling up. 

The last time I saw such an unfortunate misuse of branding was in 2010, during a few depressing days spent observing South Africa's official "Fifa World Cup courts”. 

That logo was hung over the lintel of magistrates' courts across the nation, wherein people were sentenced to 15 years for offences they had committed barely two days previously, South Africa's Constitution having been obligingly abandoned for the duration of Fifa's stay. 

With more than 1 500 judicial personnel seconded to meet the governing body's demands for showily swift justice in a country with a crime-ridden reputation, the Mail & Guardian estimated that each conviction cost R2-million.

Failed masterplan
Back to Brazil, though, where Blatter's masterplan to return the World Cup tournament to the continent of its inauguration is backfiring spectacularly, and may yet prove the most historic of miscalculations for an organisation unused to being meaningfully challenged.

Perhaps it isn't seemly to find too much humour in the situation, but the fact that Fifa's Arab Spring appears to have kicked off in Brazil – Brazil of all places! – is delicious in its way. 

The so-called football family's idealisation of Brazil absolutely epitomises the lies the game tells itself. Or, rather, tells its consumers. 

Even now, you just know some Nike executive is storyboarding a World Cup advert that begins with some lovable favela urchin kicking a ball to his barefoot friend, who in turn off-loads it to someone. Football makes them carefree about their lot, and 87 passes later – through everyone from Pele to Gisele Bündchen – it ends up in the Maracana with Neymar chipping it sublimely into the net. Everybody wins. Don't they?

The ongoing civil unrest in Brazil disputes this reading most inconveniently. Bizarrely, many citizens in this carefree, barefoot samba nation appear to be discomfited by such minor irritations as disease, corruption, and their inability to get from A to B.

Even football's own have broken what I imagine our besieged dictator would consider ranks, to express solidarity with those I trust he will soon start describing as rebels. Aside from the likes of Neymar voicing support, Romário has posted a YouTube video attacking Fifa as an entity that sets up "a state within a state”. 

Without wishing to pull up the striker-turned-politician on his political science, the classification isn't perfectly accurate: Fifa is more of a parasite state that seeks a constant supply of host states – or host nations, as it prefers to refer to them. Like the International Olympic Committee, it is a supranational body that attaches itself to lesser organisms for its own enrichment, before departing in search of fresh meat.

The question is whether the Olympic committee will have anything left to suck out when the games descend on Rio in 2016. Who knows, but let's hope Blatter can count on Olympic back-up in the perilously long build-up to next summer's tournament, given how he appears to be floundering.

At least he knows he won't get this impertinence in Russia or Qatar, just as the Olympic committee didn't get it in Beijing. In the future, perhaps, these bodies will be able to stage their fundraisers only in the sort of places you get interned for querying a parking ticket. Or in Britain, where, despite all the grumbling, people are far too serially pliant to take to the streets over such things, and where the dream of two heady weeks last year was apparently sufficient to bury ongoing questions about the madness of Olympic expenditure.

Hazy benefits
Most immediately at risk, perhaps, is Blatter's endlessly woolly "philosophy” about what the privilege of spending billions on a sporting event brings a nation. Clearer-eyed idealists – the Qatari or Chinese governments, say – evidently dismiss the democratically transformational possibilities of such events, and are drawn to them as tools for something else entirely.

Still, the panicked Brazilian president this week responded to the protests by announcing £16-billion of spending on transport, as well as a referendum on political reform. 

If Blatter wants to stick with the shameless disingenuity of a lifetime, he could always use his speech on Sunday to claim that none of that would have happened were it not for his tournament's presence in the country. – Guardian News & Media 2012