To illustrate how tone-deaf FIFA has truly become in the wake of general mass protests in Brazil, consider this:
The unveiling of a special label by Taittinger, the official bubbly provider of next summer’s World Cup, and of the just-completed Confederations Cup, took place as scheduled late last week.
While The Guardian noted that “it is not quite a Marie Antoinette moment” for FIFA, there’s also this bit of information:
“At more than 220 reais (£64) a bottle in Brazilian supermarkets, Taittinger is popular among the novo rico (new rich) in a country where more than 10 million people live in extreme poverty, often without access to clean water.”
In the same story, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter illustrated — again — why he’s the king of the tone-deaf:
“I can understand that people are not happy, but they should not use football to make their demands heard. Brazil asked to host the World Cup. We didn’t force it on them.”
It was difficult to watch Sunday’s Confed Cup final at the fabled Maracaña between the host nation and the defending World Cup champions from Spain and not be disturbed more by the reactions of the elites than the violence in the streets, especially in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city.
The game was the distraction, as it should have been.
Triggered by rising bus fares, the protests that have drawn hundreds of thousands of working- and middle-class Brazilians for more than a week, and they’re not going away because a tournament has ended. Their cries are for better schools, more hospitals and other necessary ingredients of an increasingly prosperous nation that’s leaving too many behind.
In particular, dwellers of the favelas — Rio’s notorious hillside slums that have given birth to many of Brazil’s best soccer players — are having their plight relayed globally by the international media that descended upon the city to chronicle the nation’s sports prowess.
For the moment, those examinations — like the champagne — are on hold.
Brazil’s explosive economy — it’s the “B” in the so-called BRIC collection of emerging economic powers — has created more gaps of inequality than it has closed.
Although Brazil earned the right to stage the World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, before she took office, President Dilma Rousseff could very well be out of office by the time the World Cup opens.
Until two weeks ago, her biggest headaches were dealing with the plethora of organizational and logistical challenges of staging the World Cup — the domestic airports and transportation system in particular appear to be woefully inadequate. Now, her re-election prospects early next year do not look good for quite dramatically different reasons.
But the recent troubles in Brazil aren’t all on the government, as Blatter suggests.
In another magnificent gesture of which FIFA seems uniquely qualified to make, Blatter pledged to turn over $100 million to Brazil in wake of the protests, as if money can quell a widespread, organic uprising that has been perlocating for quite a while. Given the billions FIFA and its corporate sponsors are likely to make from the World Cup, this is an insult.
But this time, FIFA may not be able to slip away from scrutiny, as it has done so often before. That the sport’s grandest stage will take place in the nation that has won the World Cup more times than any other nation will place an unavoidable lens on an entity whose leading figures regard themselves as being above mere heads of state, primarily since they are impossible to hold to account.
And a leading scold of soccer commercialism has already taken a rather hard shot at elites in general. Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan novelist and author of the exquisite “Soccer in Sun and Shadow,” had this to say as the protests gathered traction:
As far as I’m concerned, the explosion of indignation in Brazil is justified. In its thirst for justice, it is similar to other demonstrations that in recent years have shaken many countries in many parts of the world.
Brazilians, who are the most soccer-mad of all, have decided not to allow their sport to be used any more as an excuse for humiliating the many and enriching the few. The fiesta of soccer, a feast for the legs that play and the eyes that watch, is much more than a big business run by overlords from Switzerland. The most popular sport in the world wants to serve the people who embrace it. That is a fire police violence will never put out.
This is a hopeful sentiment, of course, since the expansiveness of the protests reflects a leaderless nature that could fizzle out at any time.
And it must be noted that Galeano’s sensibility comes as much from his avowed Marxism as from his artistic notions.
But Duke professor Laurent Dubois, creator of The Politics of Football blog, suggests that the true ideologues are those at the top:
The boosters for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil want people to imagine joyful, dancing, pretty, green and yellow clad fans: not lines of riot police firing tear gas. But FIFA and the World Cup are, and have always been, inherently political. What’s happening in Brazil is that protestors are attempting to re-shape the political meaning of the event, turning it into an opportunity to change Brazil according to their vision.