WASHINGTON, July 14, 2014 — During the World Cup there were those “one-world” moments, as when before the Brazil-Chile match, players from both teams were shown waiting to enter the stadium, embracing, laughing, and behaving in a sportsman-like fashion.
Then during the Chilean national anthem, Brazil’s fans responded with a chorus of sportsman-like boos.
After their crushing loss to Germany, some Brazilians were photographed burning the Brazilian flag, burning their Brazil soccer shirts, essentially repudiating their country. After Argentina’s loss in the final to Germany, Argentine police had to break up riots with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets.
Soccer sportsmanship is legendary, much like Atlantis is legendary. Honduras and El Salvador went to war over a soccer match, and soccer players who underperform are occasionally terminated with prejudice by fans, not the team. Losing World Cup teams have been known to go home to jail time.
Soccer hooliganism in England, racial taunts in Italy, and match fixing by gamblers and corrupt referees are just a part of the game now. A referee for the World Cup in South Africa, Ibrahim Chaibou, was chosen to work the tournament by a Singapore company that was a known front for a match-rigging syndicate. An internal FIFA report obtained by the New York Times indicated that “at least five matches and possibly more” were fixed in South Africa during exhibition matches leading up to the World Cup.
Chaibou took a bag full of cash to the bank between matches. Other officials who resisted bribes received death threats.
With the corruption, the World Cup is also a celebration of nationalism and xenophobia. Ann Coulter recently penned an article mocking soccer. She may have been trolling soccer fans; if so, the response was probably better than she hoped. She’s been excoriated for her xenophobic, hateful diatribe. But by international standards, as xenophobic, hateful diatribes go, Coulter’s was fairly ho-hum. The German paper Bild has the largest readership in Europe. Before Germany’s game with America, Bild listed the things Americans do better than Germans: wiretapping, running up debts, and being fat were among them.
This is national trash-talk, insults all in good fun. Coulter simply joined in the fun.
What Coulter missed in her slam of soccer was the biggest reason to hate the World Cup: FIFA. FIFA is evil. It corrupts all that it touches. Its Swiss headquarters should be destroyed and the ground salted.
FIFA president Sepp Blatter presides over a small empire that pulls in billions of dollars, doesn’t pay taxes, and bends governments to its will. If soccer is a religion, Blatter is Pope Alexander VI, but without the good taste in art and architecture, and too Swiss for a proper orgy. In 2012, FIFA told the Brazilian government that it would have to change a law banning beer sales in stadiums. Brazil passed the law to help reduce game-related violence.
FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke went to Brazil in January, 2012 and said flatly, “Alcoholic drinks are part of the FIFA World Cup, so we’re going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant, but that’s something we won’t negotiate.”
Brazilians were outraged, but what can a country of 200 million do against FIFA? They caved, passing what comedian John Oliver has called the “Budweiser Bill,” after a major World Cup sponsor.
The decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is generally believed to have been the result of corruption. When Qatar was announced, the world press let out a collective gasp. How do you play soccer in a country where the daytime temperature is often over 120 degrees?
Mohamed Bin Hammam, a Qatari soccer official and former FIFA executive committee member, was linked to payments to win the World Cup. Bin Hammam is not part of Qatar’s official World Cup committee, having been banned for life (twice) from soccer.
Qatar is building its stadiums with foreign — mostly Nepali and Indian — labor. It uses a labor system called “kafala,” which requires that workers turn over their passports to their employers, and only allows them to leave when the employer gives the okay. Consider it a genteel form of slavery, though one that leaves employers less concerned for worker welfare than they would be if they owned them as slaves outright.
The foreign workers are dying at a rate a little above one per day — 400 per year. And that’s while only one stadium is being built. Qatar is required to build at least eight, and might build as many as 12. In order to avoid international embarrassment, Qatari officials are considering giving the workers water breaks during the day.
Blatter concedes that it may have been a mistake to choose Qatar as the host for the World Cup, but only because it’s difficult to play in that heat. He no more notices the corruption and slave labor than a fish notices water.
Even after a dozen years in other countries, including a couple in Brazil, I don’t understand soccer’s hold on so much of the world. As a native Texan who attended UT-Austin and Texas A&M, I don’t understand the religion of American football, either. But silly, self-loathing Americans who mock the religion of football as some sort of American, macho defect ought to spend some time in Brazil and see what a real sports religion looks like.
The body count is way too low for American football to count as a religion.