As the World Cup comes to a close today, the general consensus seems to be that it was an overall success. Indeed, a lot of the first round games were entertaining, with multiple goals and surprise knock-outs. In the second round, many games went to extra time and penalty shoot-outs. And, of course, there was the Suarez incident, which allowed for an abundance of “drama” on- and off-field. However, amongst the hysteria about the World Cup final today between Germany and Argentina, we mustn’t forget the consistent undercurrent of criticism that has followed both the Brazilian authorities and, most especially, FIFA throughout this World Cup.
Long before the World Cup began this summer there were months of demonstrations in various cities in Brazil. Protesters demonstrated against the vast amount of money the Brazilian Government were spending on preparations for the World Cup (and the forthcoming Olympics). One protester in Sao Paulo told the BBC “We’re in a country where the money doesn’t go to the community, and meanwhile we see all these millions spent on stadiums”. Last year, The Guardian reported on the “social cleansing” of poorer communities in Brazil. Within particular areas, people were forcibly removed in order to build stadiums and other Word Cup related facilities. Furthermore, workers (including migrant workers) in Brazil endured poor conditions while working on construction projects, an issue which I have previously written about.
Recently, the British comedian and political satirist Jon Oliver drew significant attention to the various issues of concern relating to the World Cup and FIFA (the segment has been viewed over 7 million times on YouTube). Oliver discusses how there has been enormous financial investment in stadiums in Brazil, yet some will be of no use following the World Cup. Also, he questions how it is FIFA (not the Brazilian Government or its people) who makes a substantial profit from the World Cup. Furthermore, he relays how FIFA claims to be a non-profit organisation, but holds a reserve of over a billion dollars. One of the most striking things that Oliver highlights is that before a ball is kicked in Qatar (2022) more than 4,000 workers will die while working on construction projects for the World Cup.
To add to this, allegations of corruption have surrounded FIFA for some time now, especially since Qatar won the bid to host the World Cup in 2022. Qatar is an unlikely choice of venue for a major soccer tournament for many reasons, but probably the main problem with the choice is the sheer intensity of heat in that country. BBC’s Panorama aired an extensive programme in May 2014 about allegations of institutional corruption in FIFA. It is claimed that officials offered to sell their votes in deciding where the World Cup would be held in 2022. Last week the president of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, attempted to deflect allegations of corruption in relation to Qatar winning the bid by stating that the questioning of Qatar hosting the next World Cup is racist. I find it quite offensive that Blatter uses the serious issue of racism to deflect from allegations of corruption.
So yes, the actual football that took place this summer can be said to be a success or at least entertaining, but in terms of how FIFA operate and the effects the World Cup has on the wider community (especially those that are poor) it is far from a success. Thankfully, major questions are currently being asked of FIFA. Perhaps this is the perfect time to reconceptualise how an organization like FIFA operates and what its broader aims are – I suggest that this should include a broader view of how the World Cup, and all that it involves, impacts on the country that is hosting the games and the wider community.