Like most football fans across the world, I have taken a perverse and personal delight in watching the bloated, jowly patriarchs of FIFA fall, one after another. Not only do I feel that the on-going investigations into the misogynistic world of backslapping, ham-handed, wink-wink deal making are confirming my own knowledge and intuition, but also that the doors to the smoky back rooms of FIFA have been prised open, exposing a global coterie of sycophants and their clever, intertwined, and illegal schemes.
FIFA and its (two) presidents have cozied up to dictators and presidents, popes and prime-ministers, conferring upon themselves all of the pomp, power, and impunity of a head of state
For the last six years, I have been investigating how the hosting of the World Cup and Olympics impacts upon urban and social relations in Brazil. In this work, I have exposed how the intricate shell game of FIFA and the IOC extracts maximum wealth from host cities and countries while at the same time militarizing and privatizing urban space, violating human rights, and leaving legacies of debt and unfulfilled promises. For those who can afford it, the party is fantastic. Once the floodlights have burned out, the hangover lasts for decades. In Brazil, the links between big business, big government, and big sport are opaque and insidious, yet the connections to the most recent FIFA-crisis are all too clear. Brazilian companies and executives are in the spotlight, again, for all the wrong reasons.
The most surprising development is that it has happened at all. Since 1974, FIFA and its (two) presidents have cozied up to dictators and presidents, popes and prime-ministers, conferring upon themselves all of the pomp, power, and impunity of a head of state. They have showered riches upon themselves as the self-appointed stewards of the game and like the Euro-aristocracy resident on Mt. Olympus, have made others rich in the process. The complex systems of patronage and peonage that define FIFA´s political philosophy are the same as those used by colonial powers. Big egos in white bodies (with apologies to Jack Warner and Issa Hayatu) rule this world by manufacturing consent through the distribution of favours, suppressing dissent through the militarization of urban space and the curtailment of civil liberties, and choreographing their marionettes who, in accordance with the Brazilian World Cup slogan, are “all in one rhythm.”
will there be anything left of FIFA? Or rather, is it reasonable to think that FIFA can disassociate from the same kinds of oppression, violence, and injustice that define global consumer capitalism?
Predictably, it was from FIFA´s band of servile minions – morbid troglodytes like Chuck Blazer, hyperbolic shysters like Jack Warner, and half-arsed opportunists like Ricardo Texeira – that the tightly wound FIFA-world began to unravel. Too much money flowing too quickly to the wrong people though the wrong country for too long, coupled with the FBI´s charming insouciance for the real-politik of global sporting affairs has resulted in a very hard, very determined tug on a lot of rotten strings. Among the unanswerable questions is, if it all unravels, will there be anything left of FIFA? Or rather, is it reasonable to think that FIFA can disassociate from the same kinds of oppression, violence, and injustice that define global consumer capitalism? There has never been a period in the era of mass-communications when FIFA was not corrupt, so how will it suddenly emerge? Will cutting off some heads of the scabrous FIFA-Hydra change the nature of the beast? While behind the scenes deals are being struck, these desperate attempts to consolidate power are finally in conflict with an exasperated public, the FBI, and a thirsty press corps. Somehow, despite the rot, we are still captivated by football.
As the events of the past weeks have unfolded, the depth and extent of FIFA´s criminal network has become evident even to casual observers. The sudden resignation of FIFA´s communications officer, Walter de Gregorio (responsible for Blatter´s 2011 re-election campaign), may be a sign that there is no message to deliver, no more damage control to be done. It is almost impossible to keep track of the threads, but some of the more intriguing are that:
- The Germans may have swapped arms for a Saudia Ariabian vote to get the 2006 WC
- FIFA authorized a $10 million USD bribe to then-CONCACAF president Jack Warner
- Jack Warner split this with his deputy Chuck Blazer, who used the money to keep a Trump Tower apartment for his cats
- The 2018 and 2022 WC votes were bought, as were 1998, 2006, 2010, and 2014. The 2002 WC was not exempt, either, but corruption allegations against corrupt officials were never pursued
- Nike, the Brazilian Football Confederation, the ex-president of Barcelona, Sandro Rossell, and the Qatari royal families have exchanged hundreds of millions of dollars between them
- FIFA paid the Irish FA 5 million Euros to not make noise about being wrongly disqualified from the 2010 WC.
- All of the television broadcasting rights contracts for the WC, as well as the Copa Libertadores, Copa América, and other tournaments in Brazil, and much of South America, were illicitly gained
This list is far from comprehensive and spans several modes of corruption, ones that affect governance, publicity, as well as actual decisions on the field. One hopes that in the coming months, the details will emerge to fill in these categories. In the meantime, everything – from marketing contracts to penalty decisions to hotel accommodations – is tainted with corruption.
Journalists and academics that report on and research global sport had yet to touch the bottom of the fetid pool, but even for us it still comes as somewhat of a surprise that the rest of the world can now read about match-fixing, illegal transfers, human trafficking, money laundering, Swiss bank accounts, bribery, racketeering, falsification of contracts, etc. as an integral part of the way football is organized. With the recent politicization of labour rights for NCAA athletes, the banal cruelty of playing a World Cup on turf, and the destruction of human life in the NFL and its subsidiaries, perhaps there is a chance that sport and politics will find a place in the public consciousness.
This is not about using sport as a force for good, or as FIFA claims “developing football everywhere.” Sport is about power
In reality, the FIFA saga is a captivatingly complex morality play being acted out on a global stage with curious twist: the chorus is hundreds of millions strong and may be able to influence the plot. Will the hood-eyed prince, Michel Platini, make his move for the presidency now? Will the court jester, Zico, show that he can perform better than Texeira? This is not about using sport as a force for good, or as FIFA claims “developing football everywhere.” Sport is about power and we should be aware that our places in the audience impact on its exercise.
We know World Cup games are bought and sold. We know that the WWC is being played on turf because football associations are on FIFA´s leash and have more power than the players. We know that thousands of kids are trafficked across borders, sold into prostitution, or are molested, mistreated, or die because of a lack of medical attention. For every Dani Alves or Neymar, there are a hundred thousand broken legs and a million broken dreams in Brazil alone. We know of the bribery behind World Cup bids, the illegal and blindingly idiotic stadium building contracts, the militarization of cities for FIFA VIPs, dirty billion dollar television contracts, institutionalized racism and sexism, and a never-ending series of lies, deceptions, and platitudes. There is no “Fair Play” in or with FIFA.
As a reminder of how short our memories are, it is nearly a year to the day that the 2014 World Cup kicked off in Brazil. Of the twelve stadiums, in the twelve cities, ten are in serious difficulty. The only two that are not going through financial and political turmoil are the two built by clubs in Curitiba and Porto Alegre. Of all the football associations implicated in the current FIFA hullabaloo, the Brazilian federation is the most embroiled. The Brazilian João Havelange was FIFA´s modern architect and his granddaughter, an executive director of the 2014 World Cup, famously quipped about the R$ 30 billion outlay, “however much was spent, or stolen, already has been” [so why worry?].
None of the “legacy” promises made by FIFA has come to fruition in Brazil. On fleeing the country as protests erupted around the Confederations´ Cup in 2013, Blatter announced a $ 100 million USD “legacy fund”, that would be administered by the CBF. This is the Brazilian organization recently run by a man now sitting in a Zurich jail house and currently headed up by a man who fled Zurich and ran straight to Brasilia where he was honoured by senators and congressmen. Of course, FIFA regulations prevent the Brazilian government from interfering in CBF affairs, a position that is at least consistent with the surrendering of territorial sovereignty that comes with hosting the World Cup. This takes the form of tax exemptions, restrictions on advertising, and the ability to close any street in a host city, at any time, for any reason.
And now, as if to prove the point that the Canadian World Cup doesn´t matter, the Copa America kicks off in Chile, a country with long and painful associations between football and politics. In the same way we should remember those tortured and murdered in Santiago´s National Stadium, we should also remember that the same people who organized, broadcast, and advertise at this tournament are implicated in the shambolic governance of football. The show goes on with the same delirious media coverage, the same lack of critical reflection, the same people making more money than ever. It may be that FIFA and football are beyond reform as long as the crowds pour their money in and conform to FIFA´s inexhaustible list of prohibited behaviours. Is it possible that the global chorus of football fans can only hope to sing their teams on to victory, while the dark-suited protagonists squirrel away their millions? Can anything change if we only watch the ball?Christopher Gaffney, PhD (University of Texas at Austin) is a Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Geography at the University of Zurich. His work investigates the impact of major sporting events on urban centers and their populations.
My book, Living with Insecurity in a Brazilian Favela, examines the social production of insecurity in a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, paying particular attention to how multiple, overlapping forms of urban violence impact the residents of a neighborhood that I call Caxambu. I try to show how the neighborhood is experienced as a profoundly contradictory space. On the one hand, it is a place of social intimacy, pride, and creativity, reflecting the deep social ties that bind many of its residents and the years of work that they’ve put into building their homes, streets and alleys. Yet at the same time it is often a space of social marginalization and unpredictably lethal violence, reflecting how drug-trafficking and policing conspire to disorganize daily life.
“The flow is not one way, (defense) institutions also return home transformed,” writes Stuart Schrader in his post Police Empire. Stuart helped us kick-off the month of September, picking up again with the theme of police militarization. Perhaps a surprise for many to learn, Stuart discusses how militarization and “blurred” policing boundaries are hardly novel developments. Though these topics reached an apex shortly after the death of Michael Brown, the tendency of police to apply foreign tactics in home territories has been happening for several decades.
Sasha Goldstein of the New York Daily News continued the militarization thread with the story of a Texas man who was shot by police recently at a Texas truck stop. Though some officers were armed with AR-15s, more attention was gained by the (now notorious) “fist bump” exchanged between two officers. The move was caught on video following the shooting. Despite being armed with a non-lethal BB gun, the man reportedly raised the replica and pointed it at officers before they open fired.
Between police militarization and never-ending streams about officer use of force, many are wondering what if anything is being done to ensure the effective monitoring of police in the field. If you are among those scratching their heads, be sure to catch NPR’s feature “Can Body Cameras Civilize Police Encounters?” Where the benefits of badge cameras are easily perceived by the public, the lesser-known “cons” (and implementation difficulties) are often overlooked. In addition to Ferguson, officers in several jurisdictions (including Florida and soon, Washington, DC) are already adopting the technology.
David Greene wins this week for favorite “off beat topic of September-so-far,” covering the mandate for NYPD officers to attend social media 101 training. In case you forgot, the reason behind the training stems back to the April 2014 twitter campaign disaster, #myNYPD.
And last but so-not-least, the folks at Anthropoliteia were pleased to offer not one but two new posts for your reading pleasure. The first, A new grammar of public security in Brazil, was featured September 1st in our Book Reviews section. Daniel Silva reviews Paulo Mesquita Neto’s “Essays on Civilian Security” (2011). We also welcomed back In the Journals, which offers a bi-monthly rundown of recent academic publications. Be sure to check out August’s highlights!
Did I miss something? No worries- it does happen on occasion. If you have any suggestions for DragNet, or if you want to call attention to a specific blog or article, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “DragNet” in the subject header and I’ll get on it!