FIFA Cannot Stay Ignorant To A Tournament's Sustainability

It's all very well getting giggly and excited about the World Cup, but what of the social cost to Brazil? Do FIFA have a responsibility to ensure accord and sustainability..?

Last Updated: 05/12/13 at 14:22 Post Comment

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It should be obvious to everyone by now that FIFA place their own interests above pretty much everything else and Jerome Valcke, the general secretary, has been at it again, admonishing Brazilians who think the roughly £8bn the World Cup is costing, plus the squillions going on the 2016 Rio Olympics, should have been spent elsewhere.

"It is a right to demonstrate," Valcke told the BBC. "For them, it's the best time. For me, it's the wrong time."

The question is when does FIFA think is the right time? When no one is watching?

The world governing body's luck or lack thereof is the least important aspect of events in Kiev right now but the timing of the mass demonstrations against the rule of President Viktor Yanukovych is a touch inconvenient for another figure with a controversial electoral history. As Sepp Blatter prepares to preside over Friday's World Cup draw, the co-hosts of UEFA's 2012 shindig are in turmoil, and the repercussions extend beyond Ukraine's borders.

Even during last year's tournament, the country's political disputes were highly visible, not just in the threat of and actual boycotts by European Union dignitaries. Up against the enormous fanzone in the centre of the capital was a non-corporate tented village, occupied by the supporters of the former prime minister Yulia Timoshenko. They were still there for September's goalless draw, making the sort of allegations of corruption and false imprisonment that you see outside embassies in London, not government buildings.

The situation is complicated: Timoshenko has plenty of critics and the opposition embraces far-right nationalists; the country is close to evenly divided between those who look to Russia and those who look to the west. But the sight of the same riot police who milled around with very little to do at Euro 2012 beating protesters indiscriminately demolishes whatever benefits Ukraine's international profile may have gained from the country's month in the football focus.

More than that, the decision that brought people on to the streets was a rejection of a deal with the European Union apparently under the threat of a substantial increase in gas prices from Russia - the people FIFA has got into bed with for the 2018 World Cup.

UEFA, it should be noted, dealt with Ukraine at a time when it seemed to be becoming more democratic and was then faced with an authoritarian swing; with Russia and Qatar, FIFA could be under no illusions what they are signing up to. But Gazprom, the gas giant whose relations with Ukraine are at the heart of Russia's leverage, is a sponsor of the Champions League as well as FIFA.

When it comes to Brazil, Valcke and Blatter are sticking their fingers in their ears going la-la-la, or at least trying to - and this is the attitude to political matters in general. But while FIFA like to pretend that their sport takes place in splendid isolation from the rest of the world (all the while creaming off tax-free profits), reality can and does intrude. Those protesting in Kiev may wonder just how much more notice the world would have taken had they made more of the opportunity of Euro 2012 and those in Brazil with grievances over housing, education, infrastructure, long-term employment and everything else are sure to seize their opportunity - especially, whether we as fans like it or not - when football's role is a central point of contention.

Philip Cornwall

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