Amid the controversy currently engulfing FIFA, it is worth reflecting on the circumstances surrounding last year’s World Cup in Brazil, and asking what we can expect from FIFA’s future.
Brazil’s World Cup was a chequered affair. Superficially, it had seemed like the perfect fit. Brazil is a country obsessed with soccer, and as five-time winner of the World Cup, it has lifted the hallowed trophy more often than any other country.
Yet, when we examine the Cup in retrospect, Brazil was never the perfect host. The country has been, for a long time, plagued by inequality and political corruption. On the ground, these two factors came to define Brazil’s World Cup.
In the lead up to the tournament, Brazil’s populace was ecstatic to play host to the world’s best, not least for the soccer that would be on show, but for the grandiose promises of expanded public infrastructure that would necessitate hosting. With a population of 200 million, Brazil already has extensive road, public transport and health infrastructure but their standard is still far below that of a fully developed nation.
These promised advances never came. Preparation for the World Cup was woefully behind schedule as the tournament approached, with so many plans for urban reinvigoration eventually jettisoned. Indeed, stadiums were only just completed in time. This writer personally saw the frantic laying of asphalt, planting of trees and other public works taking place in the week leading up to, throughout and after the Cup.
Even in the year leading up to Brazil’s World Cup, there were mass protests in many Brazilian cities lamenting the lack of follow- through on these promises, particularly the unfulfilled promises of improvements in healthcare, education and public transport. Blame was broadly laid at the feet of Brazil’s corrupt political leaders. During the opening game of the Cup, Brazilians angrily chanted to their attending president, Dilma Rousseff, “Hey! Dilma! Get f***ed!”
Now in the context of the biggest corruption scandal in Brazil’s history, where the Worker’s Party stands accused of funnelling US$1.6 billion from state-owned oil company Petrobras to buy votes in the senate, Brazilians uniformly recognise this corruption.
The tattered reputation of Brazil’s President and her party is now mirrored in FIFA. Allegations of corruption spanning decades, the re-election then subsequent resignation of the group’s president, Sepp Blatter, and an ongoing, almost Shakespearean sequence of betrayal within FIFA have incinerated the organisation’s image.
Much of Blatter’s tight grip on power at FIFA is owed to his allegiance with poorer nations, each of whom hold a vote in the FIFA congress that elected him, as do all nations in the congress. Blatter hails FIFA’s capacity to spur development in the nations it helps, saying that the World Cup is a force for good, helping to build infrastructure in the countries it touches. In the context of Brazil’s evaporated promises, and even those of the South African World Cup where stadiums now lie dormant and rotting, this statement is as hollow as it sounds.
Debate surrounding the awarding of World Cups to Russia and Qatar continue. First, we look at Russia, due to host the World Cup in 2018. Most recently, Russia hosted the Sochi Winter Olympics, an event exceeding Brazil’s World Cup in terms of under-preparation and poor delivery. Another commonality between the Russian Winter Olympics and the Brazilian World Cup is that each claims the dubious honour of being the most expensive iteration ever of those respective competitions, which, when examining the low quality of their delivery, makes one question where exactly all the money went. Coupled with ongoing human rights violations and brutal suppression of free-speech in Russia, this only bodes poorly for its upcoming World Cup.
Then, Qatar, a country with its own spotty political and human rights history, will host the World Cup after Russia in 2022. Six thousand itinerant workers are predicted to die constructing stadiums before the first game of the World Cup is played in Qatar as a result of the controversial kafala labour system. In summer, when World Cups are normally played, Qatari temperatures reach around 50C, and dust storms are common place.
As for how this will play out in the future, we can again look to Brazil and the Petrobras scandal. As allegations of corruption reaching right to the executive emerged last year, President Rousseff said that the scandal would change Brazil for the better. Little has changed. Rousseff is still president. Meanwhile, FIFA’s corruption story has only just broken, and Blatter has promised FIFA will change. Based on the history of each group, the future looks to be just that; billions in promises and nothing in change.