As I considered Sepp Blatter’s recent comments, as well as remarks made by Jerome Valcke back in April, I was reminded of one of the final paragraphs in The Great Gatsby, where author F. Scott Fitzgerald manages to package the chaos of his novel into a single passage.
“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…”
A fitting description not only of the Buchanans, whose reckless behaviour left a trio of corpses in their wake as they fled Long Island, but also of the two FIFA supremos who don’t seem to care what sort of legacy they inflict on Brazil, Russia or anywhere else their own, vast carelessness takes them.
In statements made at a two-day symposium on sport, media and economy held last week in Austria, FIFA president Blatter told German press agency DPA that “if this happens again we will have to question whether we made the wrong decision in awarding the hosting rights.”
He was speaking, of course, about the protests that took place during last month’s Confederations Cup in Brazil, the country that will also be hosting the World Cup less than a year from now.
He continued: “To me, these protests were like alarm bells for the government, the senate, the parliament. They should work on it so that this is not going to happen again… They have a year to do so.”
Evidently, Blatter is still unaware that the countrywide demonstrations sparked by a small, student-led protest over increased transit fares in São Paulo were social actions that ran parallel to, and on the platform of, the Confederations Cup – not because of it, and not because of the World Cup.
Although FIFA’s competitions did, and quite rightfully, get caught in the crosshairs.
Between 2003 and 2011 nearly 40 million Brazilians made their way from extreme poverty to a new, burgeoning middle class as a thriving economy (the International Monetary Fund lists Brazil’s economy as the seventh-biggest in the world and estimates it will leapfrog the United Kingdom into sixth place by 2015) and the policies of populist president Luz Inácio Lula da Silva transformed the country into an economic powerhouse.
What the demonstrations signalled was that a new, energetic generation of Brazilians that had come of age during a period of unprecedented growth was no longer satisfied with social services that predated their first-world expectations. They wanted, and want, everything from better health care to better education and an end to corruption. They are also exasperated that their government has spent tens of billions of Reais on stadiums instead of hospitals, schools and other social infrastructure.
When I asked São Paulo-based TV Globo presenter Jon Cotterill about the protests and just how far they could go, he said he didn’t think people had really grasped how significant the actions were and could end up being.
“I don’t think they really understand how deep these things, these demonstrations, could be,” he said.
Blatter certainly doesn’t understand.
He can’t seem to get his head around how his organization has been lumped in with the misplaced priorities and harmful excesses that drove the Brazilian public into the streets in the first place; how FIFA, which has invested nothing in the country and will pay no tax on its income from both the Confederations Cup and World Cup, has become a symbol of social evil in a place where ordinary citizens are trying to drive momentum in the opposite direction.
“It’s not (FIFA) who have to learn lessons from the protests in Brazil,” he said. And, not surprisingly, they haven’t.
Not quite three months ago Blatter’s deputy, FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, remarked that “less democracy is sometimes better for organizing a World Cup.”
Speaking at a conference that, ironically, addressed the commercialization of recent World Cups, Valcke went on to say that “when you have a very strong head of state who can decide, as maybe (Russian president Vladimir) Putin can do in 2018… that is easier for us organizers than a country such as Germany, where you have to negotiate at different levels.”
In other words, places where proper consultation, legislative procedure and generally due process must be followed in the making of decisions and allocations of funds.
Until the Confederations Cup protests FIFA had, for the most part, got everything they wanted from Brazil. Glamorous stadiums were built throughout the country; roads, bridges, rail lines and airports were constructed and upgraded in anticipation of a tourist influx. The country’s hard-won liquor laws that prevented alcohol sales inside stadiums were reversed to accommodate FIFA sponsors.
They’ll get everything they want out of Russia, too, and there will almost certainly be none of the public uprising to damage its reputation. The Russian authorities will see to that and, as Valcke suggested, FIFA will likely be able to deal directly with the president in setting up its World Cup.
And they’ll invest nothing, leaving the day after the final with bulging coffers — all of it tax-free — and thousands of people either displaced to make way for the amusement park or smashed up (or worse) from the protesting of it, retreating back into their money or their vast carelessness, letting other people clean up the mess they made.
Jerrad Peters in a Winnipeg-based writer. Follow him on Twitter