James Lawton: Is Fifa intent on becoming sport's sinister Big Brother?
Saturday 19 June 2010
One problem for the provisional government established by Fifa here for the duration of this World Cup is that it is running so far behind the efficiency levels of the one outlined by George Orwell in his novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four".
The difficulty getting particularly acute is the lack of a properly resourced and empowered Ministry of Disinformation.
Hence the unhindered presence throughout yesterday of the splash story of the city's leading newspaper that is reproduced on this page. It is not exactly on Fifa president Sepp Blatter's message, is it?
You know the one well enough by now. Fifa has given Africa the Mama and Papa of all gifts: the greatest, most joyful party guaranteed to uniquely lift the spirit and self-regard of the troubled continent. Then you study the picture: riot police, armed with pump guns, and a distressed young woman in what is obviously a growing state of trauma.
One of Big Brother's minion's at the ministry would have had that front page shredded and replaced in the time it takes to hit the obliterate button. That's the trouble with Fifa's colonisation. You can squeeze out every dollar and rand until the pips squeak but you can't stifle a hard fact that has been growing a little more obvious ever since the tournament expanded from 16 to 32 clubs between 1978 and 1998 not in pursuit of ultimate standards of competition – or spectacle – but the maximising of the profit and the gleaning of votes. So it goes in the world, you might say, but the dichotomy between the propaganda and the reality can never have been quite so stark as when the sun peeped over Table Mountain here.
You might feel this has reached a new low with the first-hand account of the witness of another young woman caught in the latest riot provoked by the unrest of World Cup stewards, who were promised certain pay levels and then looked at their wage slips and found a fall-off in some cases of up to 90 per cent.
A local reporter tells us that he witnessed a metro policeman a firing four rounds of rubber bullets from a few metres into the back of the girl who appeared to be trapped in the melee. He goes on: "It was not clear whether the unidentified woman was one of the protestors or a bystander. Earlier walking up the road on her own, she started wailing as a line of police offers ran towards her, firing rubber bullets at a crowd about 200 metres away. She began to run as they got closer, putting her jacket over her head but when the police were no more than a few metres away, one officer fired the rounds in her back. She then fell over and was picked up by police and pushed into the back of a police van."
Some party this, Sepp, for one young beneficiary of the great football jamboree. You may remember the president's gossamer light comic touch when he introduced Fifa's now notorious World Cup ball a few months ago – just a day or two after Thierry Henry's blatant handball contribution to France's ill-used ticket to the finals. He said he must not touch the ball with his hands. Of course, he shouldn't have held it even with rubber gloves, so outrageous is the imbalance between the profits it has generated and the disservice it has done to the skills of every player, goalkeeper or outfielder, competing here.
The problem with the stewards is one basic betrayal of the promise that it wouldn't only be big corporations who came out of the 19th World Cup licking their lips. When two Dutch women were also slammed into a police van for their participation in the publicity stunt on behalf of a brewery not signed up with Fifa, provoking outrage in the Dutch foreign ministry, we got another insight into the extent of the hold exerted by the government of the world's most popular game on any host nation granted its patronage.
Yes, Fifa, can claim that they are hell-bent on distributing the profits to grass roots in places like Aruba and Guam but at what point do we begin to measure the price of any such benefit – especially when you set it against the opulent Fifa lifestyle on view every day in the Michelangelo hotel in Johannesburg's Sandton enclave.
Perhaps the cut-off point for some came when Fifa blithely defended its policy of banning journalists from asking any members of the North Korean squad questions which even obliquely touched on the fact that they are operating in arguably the world's most repressive society. North Korea, of course, brings us back to Big Brother and the valuable ability to control your most important message.
Here, Fifa's is that there is no place for dissension, or profit but their own, on the streets or the airwaves, only the celebration of the great football festival that every four years is handed out for the good of the game and the good of the world.
It is a concept that yet may be well served by the deeds of great players like Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta and, who knows, Wayne Rooney. In the meantime, however, the shots are being fired and too many here believe that the great party is something of a myth. It may have been thrown in their name, but where is the benefit?
There certainly wasn't much of a clue on the face of the young African woman dumped in the back of the paddy wagon.
How far and fast the mighty French have fallen
Arguably the biggest potential World Cup horror, it now looks extremely unlikely to unfold. This was that France would do only slightly better than they did four years ago and win a second World Cup to place alongside the one carried off with flair and no shortage of honour in 1998.
And then everything here would have been based on a lie.
Before the tournament a terrible flaw was revealed in the workings of the game. France cheated their way to a place in the finals at the expense of the Republic of Ireland in an entirely preventable way.
We can only hope that by Brazil 2014 Fifa will have looked up from the trough long enough to install the technology that will help referees wipe out the possibility that any team can arrive in the finals in the disgraceful manner of France. Or that someone like Thierry Henry, who had illuminated football at the highest level so many times, succeeds in betraying much of the meaning of his brilliant career.
There is the additional wish that under the great Laurent Blanc, himself a victim of gross sharp practice by the Croatian defender Slaven Bilic when he was denied a place in the final in Paris, France put behind them the lost years spent under the eccentric, part-time astrologist Raymond Domenech .
In persevering with Domenech the French FA has been as negligent as its English counterpart has ever been in the vital matter of the stewardship of the national team.
When France won their World Cup, and followed up with the European Championship two years later, they were a glory of the game. They had Zinedine Zidane and acolytes of the quality of Henry and Patrick Vieira.
That inheritance was squandered terribly here and the anger of Manchester United full-back Patrice Evra was an eloquent statement of the waste. "We were never a team," he lamented.
Naturally, the mourning for the fall of France was muted in places like Dublin and Cork. Indeed, there the image of Mexico's triumph was not the sombrero of Pancho but those of any number of Paddy Villas. If revenge has to be taken cold, the Guinness tap can rarely have been so lovingly monitored.
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