The World Cup is moving into the knockout stages and, rightly so, the tournament has garnered immense attention internationally. I myself have been cheering for the US Men's National Team, though I think that Die Mannschaft (Germany) will ultimately emerge victorious in the tournament. The World Cup never fails to disappoint and this year has certainly been thrilling.
The World Cup is also a moment in which football's governing body, FIFA, is most scrutinized -- and this is for good reason.
Brazil's opportunity to host the World Cup has been a moment of pride for the Brazilian government and is almost too fitting a scene. A country that evokes images of beach parties, carnivale, and joyful people is coupled with a deep appreciation for the rich history of Brazilian soccer -- players like Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Marta, and more come to mind.
Starkly contrasting the glee and celebrity of the World Cup is the stark inequality that exists between those who live in the urbanized and modernized districts of Brazil's major cities and the 11 million Brazilians who live in its favelas (slums). There is the fact that construction of Brazil's facilities to host the World Cup matches have displaced hundreds of thousands of indigenous communities and the poor. Consequently, these communities have clashed with Brazil's police forces in public protests. The sheer cost of hosting the World Cup has been estimated between $15 and $20 billion. FIFA, as it turns out, pockets the revenue from ticket sales, marketing, corporate sponsorships, and TV rights. All of that money, Brazilian citizens have argued, should have gone toward social services like health care, public transit, and housing. More than one million people took to the streets to protest this inversion of priorities; schools, the posit very reasonably, are more important than stadiums.
FIFA drew attention earlier this year when two Palestinian soccer players were shot in the feet by Israeli soldiers. Border police claimed that the boys were preparing to throw a bomb and were swiftly neutralized. The young men dispute the claim, saying that they were lighting a cigarette on their way home from training, as reported by Haaretz. The incident underscores significant frustration among countries, activists, and individuals who support Palestinian freedoms-- in this incident, specifically the freedom to participate in sports.
Organizations like the Palestine Association for Children's Encouragement of Sports (PACES) and the Palestine Football Association, which is a full member of FIFA, recognize the capacity of sport in therapy, healthful competition, and cooperation. Having positive outlets for one's creativity, energy, and aspirations is healthy for young people and therefore is healthy for a society. FIFA knows this and uses the same logic to promote the game globally. Therefore, one must ask why the organization has not done more to pressure Israel to loosen restrictions on the equipping and movement of the Palestine Football Association's players, trainers, and coaches. This would be in the best interests of all parties involved and FIFA is in a unique position of influence here.
Then of course there is the World Cup for 2022, which will be hosted by the Gulf state of Qatar. Last year, 184 migrant workers died from cardiac arrest constructing Qatar's first stadium for the 2022 World Cup. There are 12 more stadiums that must be constructed, leaving ESPN to project that more than 4,000 workers will die constructing Qatar's stadiums.
This June, The Economist published an article titled "Beautiful Game, Ugly Business," that detailed many of FIFA's shortfalls. The article's second paragraph began to expound upon the dirty money surrounding Qatar's opportunity to host the 2022 World Cup:
So it is sad that the tournament begins under a cloud as big as the Maracanã stadium. Documents obtained by Britain’s Sunday Times have allegedly revealed secret payments that helped Qatar win the hosting rights to the World Cup in 2022 [see article]. If that competition was fixed, it has company. A report by FIFA, football’s governing body, is said to have found that several exhibition matches were rigged ahead of the World Cup in 2010. And as usual, no one has been punished.
There is more to be said about FIFA, of course. This year's World Cup matches have been marred with instances of black face, homo-antagonism, and racial taunting. This should not be a surprise, as so many of the world's cultures converge upon a single arena where different histories and meanings are forced to co-exist. Nonetheless, one could imagine that FIFA has the ability to bar attendees from attending World Cup matches if they wear black face or levy identity-based attacks. It would be difficult, but it would be worth the effort.
I only pose these questions because I love the World Cup, love watching the athletes, love seeing the raw emotion that exists among the fans. FIFA, in charge of what is such a treasure to so many, has to do better.