So here it is. Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun. Well, for football fans it is Christmas. The 20th FIFA World Cup kicks off in an unfinished Sao Paulo stadium in a matter of hours – Thursday 9PM GMT to be precise – with the most appropriate logo in design history. Take a look at it again. Notice the despair, the embarrassment, and the self-loathing? Yes, that’s a facepalm alright, and it’s a perfect visual metaphor for the obscene kleptocracy that runs international football and its flagship global event.
FIFA has wisely decided that the Brazilian premier, Dilma Rousseff, and the FIFA president, Dr. Evil, will not be making too much fuss in opening the tournament in a stadium that, all scaremongering aside, could well and truly collapse under the weight of its own incompetent, human rights-abusing addiction to profit. And yet, despite the unforgivable greed that led to the deaths of construction workers, the self-serving failure to deliver national infrastructure, and the misappropriation of public money, we’ve seen nothing yet. We’re off to Russia in four years’ time, Qatar four years’ later, and surely Mordor in 2026. What’s more, world football’s ultimate Bond villain will be leading the way for the next four years…or until he’s carried out in a box having gorged himself on power and promised his African and Asian benefactors more than could ever be good for the game he is entrusted with protecting.
But it’s not just the African and Asian voters who dominate the FIFA congress – and who Blatter buys off every four years – who are to blame here. Anybody who held out hope that FIFA’s corruption would lead to a breakaway of the game’s powerhouse FAs can disabuse themselves of that fanciful notion by taking one look at Franz Beckenbauer, the ultimate icon of the German game. It seems that Der Kaiser may be fined for not fully co-operating with a FIFA inquiry into corruption. Some might say that, for that, he deserves an honour, but apparently the FIFA investigator, Michael Garcia, an American lawyer, feels that Kaiser Franz was less than helpful in answering his questions during the ongoing investigation. Theo Zwanziger, erstwhile boss of the DFB, and FIFA Ex-Co member, has reacted to the news by announcing his pride at being a pal of Beckenbauer whilst offering that the aforementioned legend is “also a businessman” – apparently a reference to some murky, but ostensibly ethical, business interests that Franz has in the Middle-East.
That somebody as glorious as Beckenbauer might make a grubby few bob for himself on the back of some work for Qatari associates is hardly surprising. As of now, there is no indication that it was anything other than honestly earned. However, it is disappointing news for those who think that, say, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, England, and Holland could break away and start their own boys club, thereby sounding the clarion to like-minded associations everywhere. Don’t be fooled. There’s money to be made by towing the line and maintaining the status quo. If the major associations really wanted an end to FIFA’s corruption, they could simply walk out en masse. It would only take a handful to render the World Cup obsolete. So why don’t they? Well, simply because there is no political will to do so. And that’s because the men running these associations are, in Zwanziger’s word, businessmen. There is money to be made. All’s fair in love, war…and business, it seems.
And so to the football – the sideshow and backdrop to all the “business”. It is to be hoped that this edition of the World Cup will differ from the last three in producing enough genuinely memorable football to compensate for the endurance of Blatter and his cronies, that self-perpetuating virus that, like the poor, is always with us.
FIFA might be able to survive constant scandal – but another forgettable World Cup might be one too many after the narcoleptic South Africa 2010. More than anything else, the knockout stage of the competition needs to produce thrills in a way it hasn’t since the last truly great finals in Mexico in 1986. Italia’90 was a grotesquely deformed abomination, and the final three matches of USA’94 produced four miserable goals and a penalty shoot-out decider. The last tournament of the last century in France was an improvement, with two classic matches involving Argentina, but since then, nothing. Or little at best.
Of course, it has to be conceded, that, to football fans, every World Cup is great simply because of the sheer “world cupness” of it all. But this one needs to provide something tangible on the pitch, if only to distract the disaffected Brazilian hordes rightly protesting the outrageous self-aggrandisement of their ruling class.
So, let the facepalm World Cup begin and let’s enjoy the bread and the circus because when it moves on, we’ll be left with Blatter and only our memories. That is, if we have any worth keeping.