FIFA and idealism

Honestly, I couldn’t care less about athleticism, let alone organized sport. So it’s been hard for me to work up much interest in the recent arrest of a number of senior FIFA officials.[1]

Such is my boredom that I overlooked the opportunity to contrast the discretion accorded wealthy arrestees—their exit from a high-class hotel was shielded by a bedsheet and some didn’t even have to wear handcuffs as undercover police escorted them to an unmarked car (figure 1)—with the treatment of more “common” criminals. I even overlooked the paradox of the New York Times account reporting that “more than a dozen plain-clothed Swiss law enforcement officials arrived unannounced [emphasis added] at the Baur au Lac hotel,” with journalists being on hand, and therefore presumably having been tipped off in advance, to capture a photograph (figure 1) of the occasion.[2]

Original caption: “FIFA officials were escorted out behind sheets at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich. Credit Pascal Mora for The New York Times.” May 26, 2015, fair use.

Fig. 1. Original caption: “FIFA officials were escorted out behind sheets at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich. Credit Pascal Mora for The New York Times.” May 26, 2015, fair use.

The impression I get, however, is that the soccer organization is widely seen as corrupt, so much so apparently, that “hatred of FIFA (paywall) largely won out over distaste for American power-mongering.”[3] So yet another example of people in power abusing their position, perhaps with U.S. power pitted against FIFA power, and yet another reason to challenge our system of social organization? I’m still yawning.

So maybe we should blame capitalism? It’s the commercialization of the World Cup—with the idea of covering the costs, paying the players, and building the stadiums—that created such opportunities for the abuse of power. But there’s got to be a way to have an idealistic global tournament of sport that doesn’t require either massive government funding or massive corruption.

Let’s ask the people at the Olympics. They must… ah. Well, back to the drawing board.[4]

Ah, recognition that capitalism may corrupt? Recognition that the juxtaposition of physical achievement, teamwork, and capitalist individualism might involve a contradiction rather than a paradox?

Yes, that’s progress and I won’t knock it. But I’ve also previously noted that organized sport involves much more than physical achievement and teamwork:

Football as freedom means “freedom” within the confines of a field marked off with boundaries, which you are “out of bounds” if you cross, and in which players who move on their own time may be “off sides.” For a fan, actually following the game, it means “freedom” within the confines of a stadium, cheering on cue, aligning your own goals with the crowd around you; or within the bounds of the small screen often writ large with projection systems. . . .

Like the Boy Scouts, football puts people in uniform, conforming to a particular appearance. It teaches brutality, defining masculinity as physical performance and as toughness, “playing through the pain.” It teaches compliance; players who fail to follow instructions will likely find themselves sidelined. It ranks players by their physical capabilities; weaker players are also less likely to play.[5]

I was writing of what the U.S. calls football rather than what the rest of the world calls “football,” that is, soccer, but really the same comments still apply. The idealism that Fernholz appeals to simply isn’t realistic, organized sport is not merely a diversion but an indoctrination, and I suppose the arrested officials might have indulged in their own teamwork as they bilking whomever they bilked.

Yes, capitalism corrupts. But more profoundly, it misrepresents, reducing all manner to human value to a number on an income and loss statement, ultimately to be accumulated on a balance sheet. There’s only one class that wins at this game. It isn’t the athletes or the fans or even the politicians who compete to win the opportunity to spend taxpayer money on facilities to host the World Cup but which will, in most cases, offer no lasting value to society.[6] It’s the already fabulously wealthy team owners.

And fans the world over should be ashamed for being taken in.

  1. [1]Matt Apuzzo, Stephanie Clifford, and William K. Rashbaum, “FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges; Blatter Isn’t Among Them,” New York Times, May 26, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/27/sports/soccer/fifa-officials-face-corruption-charges-in-us.html
  2. [2]Matt Apuzzo, Stephanie Clifford, and William K. Rashbaum, “FIFA Officials Arrested on Corruption Charges; Blatter Isn’t Among Them,” New York Times, May 26, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/27/sports/soccer/fifa-officials-face-corruption-charges-in-us.html
  3. [3]Tim Fernholz in Quartz to Quartz Weekend Brief mailing list, “Quartz Weekend Brief—Soccer’s old geezers, men in heels, romancing jihad, chocolate diets,” May 30, 2015.
  4. [4]Tim Fernholz in Quartz to Quartz Weekend Brief mailing list, “Quartz Weekend Brief—Soccer’s old geezers, men in heels, romancing jihad, chocolate diets,” May 30, 2015.
  5. [5]David Benfell, “Following football to tyranny,” Not Housebroken, September 3, 2009, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=706
  6. [6]Alissa Walker, “Why Would Any Country Host the World Cup?” Gizmodo, June 12, 2014, http://gizmodo.com/is-hosting-the-world-cup-worth-it-anymore-1582720624

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