If only FIFA were as skilled in their politics as the players are with the ball. The Brazilian World Cup has brought with it the debate we remember so well from the Beijing and Sochi Olympics, and the one that we’re anticipating in Qatar. There are problems in the dressing room that government officials are desperately trying to shield.
Shielding with money, you could say, with $40bn of state funds being spent on the tournament. In fact, the World Cup historically makes a huge economic loss for the host country, so your average local family stands to lose more money than your Dad will down the betting shop (if he puts his money on an England win).
Ah – the football purists cry – don’t be such a killjoy! It’s all about the love of the game, the sweat of the player’s brow, the glint of the £15.6m pay check – not about the diggers tearing down the favelas that support thousands of ticketless locals, or the workers dying on site at the stadiums. It’s all in the name of the ‘beautiful game’!
I mean, who can blame Brazil? They’re just trying to tidy the place up a bit. FIFA, after all, told them to host a football tournament, not do anything about the widespread urban poverty. There’s no political stipulation attached to the World Cup – if you’ve got stadiums, a ball, copious amounts of beer and not too many poor people cluttering the place up, you’re OK.
The thing is, people really do care about football – much more than they care about Oxfam, UN humanitarian missions or buying Fairtrade produce. Rio is the perfect opportunity to harness that passion to really help those who need it most. FIFA could have done that – by tying aid to World Cup hosting rights, or setting a minimum standard of living for people in Brazil, even having some health and safety rules. If Brazil is prepared to forcibly relocate its urban slums, it’s probably prepared to send around a man in a hard hat with a clipboard to stop people dying on the job.
FIFA needs to realise international football isn’t just about the game. Whilst the world is pointing its cameras and miniature flags at Brazil, it could be sending over a few quid to help those poor buggers without any shoes – as well as cheer on those with the golden boots. But the impetus for global support needs to come from the top of football. FIFA needs to grow up and accept responsibility for the enormous power it has to do good, and stop behaving like the management of a 5-a-side league.