Football can build a better world; this is the message that FIFA Secretary General Jérôme Valcke communicated on May 20th at the official launch of the venue for the Football for Hope Festival in Caju, Rio de Janeiro. On July 7th, at the opening ceremony for the festival, Sepp Blatter, Ronaldo, and Brazil’s Sports Minister, Aldo Rebelo, repeated this same message; football can build a better world.
Football for Hope is one of FIFA’s social responsibility initiatives, through which they provide support to a number of community organizations working with youth around the world that are using football for social development. The festival took place from July 7th to 10th and involved 32 delegations (organizations receiving support from FIFA) from 27 nations around the world. The organizations came together for a couple of weeks to participate in workshops, exchange knowledge, and then compete in a four day tournament.
I attended the festival because I am curious about the ‘better world’ that FIFA imagines and how their Football for Hope movement, and the actual festival, fit into their conceptions of a better world. After attending the four days it seems like FIFA’s better world, much like their current one, is full of contradictions and hypocrisy.
The matches themselves are interesting because they offer a modified form of the game called football3 developed by streetfootballworld. The teams are mixed-gendered, there are no referees, and the rules are collaboratively established. Before the games, players get together with a mediator to discuss and finalize minor rules like how to restart the game when the ball leaves the pitch. For example, some games were played with kick-ins some with throw-ins. Additionally, players decided on three ‘fair play’ rules. These might have included applauding for the other team when they scored or played well, helping opponents up when they were fouled, and so on. During the games, the players were responsible for enforcing the rules and resolving any conflicts that occured. It was also noted that the number of goals scored did not solely determine the winner, as after the games, the players met with the mediators and discussed what happened during the game and awarded points based on the fair play rules that were established.
You could argue that this is just a formalized pick-up game; making up rules and playing without a ref is how most people around the world play. That being said, pick-up games aren’t always mixed-gendered and the decision making process isn’t always democratic and inclusive. For the most part, I thought the games went well, but the formalization of fair play through points and rules sometimes came across as token and artificial.
So, is this non-hierarchical, collectivist, dialogic and inclusive form of football representative of FIFA’s better world? Probably not. FIFA would never institute this form of game in any competition outside of Football for Hope. It’s a game that is targeted at certain populations that are viewed as needing social development. When looking at most of the organizations that FIFA supports, terms used to describe these populations include the underprivileged, disadvantaged, low-income, at-risk, marginalized, or poor. This line of thinking was apparent in the VIP area, which throughout the festival was mostly empty, but the occasional visitor – usually white and considering the average income in Caju relatively wealthy – would arrive to gaze upon the field and observe the disciplining of mostly colored bodies (players and spectators).
I am not saying that FIFA providing support to community organizations is a bad thing, or that what these organization do is bad. Many of the organizations are attempting to provide services in locations, and to people, that have been neglected; however, if your vision of building a better world is based on the implicit idea that it is the poor and marginalized that need to be monitored, improved, changed, or disciplined, then building a better world simply means maintaining the status quo.
On the second day of the festival, I arrived prior to the first game to hear ‘I want to be a billionaire, so fucking bad’ blaring from the sound system.
Yeah I would have a show like Oprah
I would be the host of everyday Christmas
Give Travie your wish list
I’d probably pull an Angelina and Brad Pitt
And adopt a bunch of babies that ain’t never had shit
Give away a few Mercedes like ‘Here lady have this’
And last but not least grant somebody their last wish
It’s been a couple months that I’ve been single so
You can call me Travie Claus minus the Ho Ho
Ha ha get it? I’d probably visit where Katrina hit
And damn sure do a lot more than FEMA did
Yeah, can’t forget about me, stupid
Everywhere I go, Imma have my own theme music
In a lot of ways, I think the song sums up FIFA’s approach to development. Everyone should try to get rich and if you manage to get rich make sure you throw out some crumbs.
If FIFA is interested in building a better world and believes that football can contribute by teaching fair play, dialogue, equality, and justice, I wonder why they don’t target their own executives, or city officials and politicians, or real estate speculators with these social development programs; maybe the World Cup would look a lot different if they did. Maybe protesters and people resisting displacement from their homes would be met with dialogue instead of tear gas and bulldozers. Maybe executives connected to FIFA wouldn’t be fleeing the authorities because they were caught scalping tickets. Maybe FIFA’s anti-racism committee and their disciplinary committee would be able to agree on an understanding of, and response to, racism. Maybe deaths relating to World Cup construction in Brazil, Russia, and Qatar would be prevented. And, maybe in the spirit of fair play FIFA would think about paying taxes.
When you look at how the festival is organized and managed it also gives you a glimpse into the better world that FIFA imagines.
In his opening address, Blatter said that Caju was the 13th venue at the FIFA 2014 World Cup and he wasn’t exaggerating.
Upon entering the festival I had to put my bag through an x-ray machine and walk through a metal detector – at which point I was told I couldn’t bring my bottle of water into the venue – Coke needs to protect their brand.
Before attempting to find a seat for the opening ceremony I walked by the Sony and Hyundai activity booths, as well as the Coca-Cola food stalls. A big difference between Caju and the other World Cup venues was that there were never any line-ups for food at the festival, likely because most of the spectators were residents of Caju and wouldn’t pay R$4 for a can of Coke (about $2 USD).
After finding my way to the main field where the opening ceremony was taking place I tried to climb a stairway to a section of seats only to have a steward whistle at me and tell me I couldn’t go that way because I didn’t have the appropriate credentials. This was a recurring theme during the four days of the festival, where, as a spectator without the appropriate badge of belonging hanging around my neck, spaces were highly regulated and segregated.
Upon sitting down to watch the opening ceremony, two things stood out. The first was the giant TV screen behind one of the goals, which just like in other venues would simultaneously broadcast the action on the pitch. Opposite the big screen was a glassed off VIP section overlooking the field. For the opening ceremonies this area was filled with people, very important people, including Sepp Blatter. After the opening ceremony and the first match the area was mostly empty for the duration of the tournament except for the workers responsible for security and catering. In many ways, the separation of space at the festival mimiced the World Cup itself with certain people having access to certain spaces, while others were excluded and policed.
The fact that FIFA could organize an event like the Football for Hope Festival and claim that football can build a better world, just demonstrates how laughably oblivious they are. Theirs is a better world where spaces are highly securitized and regulated, where some people have freedom of movement and others must be controlled and disciplined, where corporations are essential for providing entertainment and sustenance, and where FIFA can spend millions of dollars on a four day festival in order to pat themselves on the back and make claims about building a better world.