The 2014 World Cup of football, or soccer as it is called in the U.S., widely regarded as one of the greatest celebrations of sport, kicked off in Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 12. Because this year’s World Cup is hosted in Brazil, the nation most commonly associated with footballing artistry and a commitment to the conjunction of sport and aesthetics, many football fans expect or at least expected this World Cup to be something special. As a football fan myself who grew up in England watching Brazil’s epic loss to Italy in the 1982 World Cup, I am still hopeful that this year’s World Cup, unlike the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, will feature goals galore, scintillating football, comebacks from the brink of defeat and treasure troves of stories of collaboration, camaraderie, adversity, triumph and tears of joy as well as sadness. For starters, the 2014 World Cup represents the convergence of some of the strongest footballing national teams ever assembled in history. This year’s World Cup boasts the likes of Argentina led by Lionel Messi, a renovated German team including Ozil, Schweinsteiger and Podolski, four time World Champions Italy, Arjen Robben and the Netherlands, the changing face of the U.S. team under Jurgen Klinsmann, strong teams from Uruguay, Belgium and Chile, and of course, mighty Brazil, led by Neymar, the former Santos and current FC Barcelona striker known for his artistry and footballing flamboyance.
But the prospects for footballing brilliance in conjunction with Brazil’s glorious beaches and lush tropical landscape have been overshadowed by political protests related to the World Cup based on the premise that the tournament detracted government funding from hospitals, schools and infrastructure. In addition, more so than at other World Cups in recent memory, allegations proliferate about FIFA’s corruption, secrecy and its disruptive influence on local communities due to the construction of stadiums and other World Cup-related infrastructures. The combination of political protests related to bus fare increases, strikes by subway workers in Sao Paolo and different permutations on the theme of FIFA’s corrupt operations collectively cast a pall over one of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles and the resulting gloom threatens to overshadow the glories of the human potentiality uniquely illustrated by professional sports on the international stage.
The World Cup need not be so enduringly sullied by protests responding to the darker effects of globalization, whether they involve the forced translocation of indigenous people to make way for lavish stadiums, tax funding that could be used for education and healthcare, or the proposition that FIFA takes bribes in the deciding where to host future World Cups, as suggested by the questionable choice of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, for example. In other words, the staging of the World Cup need not be a zero sum game in which the host nation invariably loses at the expense of FIFA and its capitalist proclivities to maximize revenue from organizing the tournament. PayPal, for example, recently partnered with Neymar and Waves for Water, to challenge World Cup fans to donate money to the cause of clean water in Brazil in ways that suggest opportunities for FIFA to similarly contribute to the very causes that political protesters in Brazil have brought to the world’s attention over the last year, beginning with the 2013 Confederations Cup. To be fair, FIFA does have a social responsibility program that partners with organizations around the world such as Football For Hope, whose mission is to “promote public health, education and football in disadvantaged communities across Africa” by means of the establishment of at least 20 footballing centers in Africa that tackle issues such as “HIV/Aids awareness, literacy, gender equality, disability and integration” in conjunction with the needs of the local community. Similarly, FIFA’s well known commitment to ending racism and discrimination, with the recent addition of gender-based discrimination to its roster of core values, deserves praise because basically no multi-national organization has used international venues to so consistently denounce racism, in particular, in such visible terms.
Nevertheless, FIFA needs to extend its power and influence further by partnering with the governments of host nations to minimize the disruption on local communities that results from the intrusions specific to staging a World Cup. For example, FIFA could partner with host nation governments to compensate any people forcibly displaced from their homes by World Cup-related construction using policies and economic models developed by organizations such as the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for decades. Similarly, FIFA should work with national and local governments to mitigate the effects of increases in rent caused by World Cup construction that threaten to render working class families homeless as a result of the World Cup. FIFA needs to drum its humanitarian mission in conjunction with the operationalization of the World Cup, in deep collaboration with host nation governments because doing so will help not only the host nation, but also the sport of football and everything inspiring that it represents. All this is not to say that FIFA can cure all ills associated with the World Cup, or that the resulting collaboration will solve issues of economic, cultural and social stratification that have deeper genealogies than the staging of a major sporting event. Regardless, the time has come for FIFA and the world to expect a deeper dialogue about how a nation and a powerful multi-national organization can work together to synergistically support each other, where possible, as opposed to the scenario we have had until now where FIFA has acted more like a bully rather than the benevolent steward which it should strive to become.