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The FIFA World Cup is killing the beautiful game

By: 
Paolo Bassi

July 7, 2014

Other than in North America, football is the world's game and always has been. The beautiful game is the still the only, largely working class, global passion that transcends nationality. But capitalism is undermining sports with repressive regimes, corporate profits and racism.   
 
In Brazil football has entered the national psyche. Barcelona jerseys can be seen on Palestinian youths as they confront Israeli tanks and on Iraqi boys as they watch the disintegration of their country. Every four years the World Cup, the apex of international football, brings entire countries to a virtual halt. The Olympics do not compare, nothing does. One need just look at pictures of ghostly Brazilian cities when the national team plays. 
 
Regimes
Perhaps the inaugural World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 was about football, but the story becomes more complex and darker after that. Like the Olympics, host governments use the World Cup for political purposes and for promoting chauvinistic beliefs. Like the Olympics in Nazi Germany two years later, Italy used the 1934 World Cup to promote fascism. Mussolini “wished” Italy to become world champions the referees, and by implication, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) who run world football, obliged.
 
FIFA had no moral qualms in awarding the 1978 tournament to Argentina’s fascistic military junta led by General Jorge Videla. The junta cleared the homeless from the streets and rounded up potential embarrassments. A pacified, happy country passionate about only football was presented to the world. But even the generals could not ensure that Argentina actually won the World Cup, or could they? To reach the final, Argentina needed to beat Peru by at least four goals. Argentina scored six and went on to win the final. To this day rumors persist of a deal between the generals and the Peruvian government. FIFA did nothing.
 
Since the world’s love and passion for football is never-ending, FIFA and global corporations woke up to the marketing potential after the global success of Mexico 1970. The world must have its football and football needs its World Cup. FIFA controls international football, ergo FIFA does what it wants.              
 
Profits
The modern era World Cup has become a massive money making bonanza for FIFA, construction contractors, gambling houses and football kit manufacturers like Nike. FIFA’s main income comes from selling television rights for the World Cup. Since almost every country wants to watch the World Cup, FIFA will garner about over $4 billion from Brazil 2014. FIFA also makes a substantial amount from marketing and granting licenses for official World Cup merchandise as well as sale of products bearing its own name such as FIFA wine for those brave enough. FIFA has basically morphed into a very successful global brand but presents itself as a quasi-official body. Exactly how committed FIFA is to meaningful promotion of football is now openly questioned.    
 
Brasil 2014 has been also been a windfall for building contractors.  The cost of the national stadium in Brasilia alone, which has hosted a handful of matches, ran over by almost $600 million. The most bizarre building is perhaps the Arena Amazonia built at a cost of $300 million in Manaus. Once the World Cup is over these useless buildings become an expensive liability for local authorities and no-one will remember why they were built. In total the Brazilian Government has spent about $15 billion on buildings and infrastructure for the 2104 World Cup—with poor communities being the most affected by disruption and eviction. 
 
As the official world body governing international football, FIFA decides where the great circus goes in future. FIFA has followed the smell of money all the way to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup. Qatar is a small country run by an obscenely wealthy oligarchy and has no football culture or history. The country has less than 300,000 citizens but almost 1.5 million migrant workers from the Indian subcontinent and the Far East who do the menial work and will build the 2022 World Cup infrastructure. These workers are practically bonded labor working under brutal, often fatally dangerous, conditions. Since 2010 about 1,000 Nepalese and Indians have died at work sites—some related to World Cup 2022 projects—from heat and dangerous conditions.  FIFA is a sophisticated, international body with a membership greater than the UN and cannot possibly claim ignorance of Qatar’s inhumane labor practices when the decision was made to grant the 2022 tournament to Qatar. As if this is not enough to revoke the decision, allegations that bribes were paid by Qatar to FIFA officials to secure the 2022 World Cup are currently under investigation.   
 
Brazil: capitalism and resistance
Brazil was to be the perfect venue for the 2014 World Cup for FIFA to salvage its tattered reputation. How could the World Cup fail in a country sold to the world for decades as a happy land of sun and soccer and where race and color are merely incidental? How could the World Cup fail in the land of Pele, Garrincha and Zico?    
 
Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff promised a “World Cup without racism,” but Brazil is a race-based casteocracy with levels of inequality to match those of the US, Mexico and India. The poor are overwhelmingly black and cannot even afford to buy tickets to watch their national team at the World Cup. Those who labored on the new stadiums better have access to a television.
 
But people refused to be seduced by football and grew angry at the state of their lives. During the Confederations Cup—a money-spinning warm up to the 2014 World Cup—the largest mass protests since 1992 broke out, leaving red-faced FIFA and Brazilian ministers scrambling. One million Brazilians—black and white, poor or about to be—came out the streets of Rio and Sao Paulo and a hundred other cities and towns and demanded change. There was a blast of fury over everything—transport cost hikes, official corruption, FIFA, the expense of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics cost.
 
Days before the World Cup started subway workers in Sao Paolo went on strike; as union president Altino Melo dos Praserres said, “we see that there’s money for the tournament but not for the workers.” The Brazilian state responded viciously, with riot police and legal fines. There have also been strikes from airport workers, bus drivers and teachers, and protests demanding social housing and free public transit.
 
FIFA symbolizes the rule of the 1%, which exploits and displaces people for corporate profits, backed by state repression. But the Brazilian protests are part of series of global revolts against austerity, which can reclaim the beautiful game from capitalist control.

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