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Moving Goalposts

I returned to South Africa from the UK a month or so before the 2010 World Cup kicked off. Like a lot of South Africans, I had fairly mixed feelings about hosting the football: although much, if not all, of the infrastructure built for the event would turn out to be useful in the future, I and others were perturbed by the amount of money spent on preparations, and, above everything, by Fifa’s increasingly outlandish demands. Not only were small businesses penalised for using copyrighted words and images, but Fifa required special courts to run during the World Cup.

By the opening ceremony, Sepp Blatter was generally known as Septic Bladder. But, in the end and despite him and the (continuing) allegations of corruption levelled at Fifa’s leadership, there was something quite astonishingly wonderful about the World Cup. (John Oliver is particularly good on how it’s possible to love the game, but hate Fifa.) I had begun to suspect that it would be a few weeks of a particular kind of South African madness as I drove to my parents’ to watch the opening ceremony. While waiting at traffic lights, the driver of a hearse leading a funeral procession whipped out his vuvuzela, and blew it at passing traffic.

A supporters' shop in Cape Town's Long Street during the 2010 World Cup.

A supporters’ shop in Cape Town’s Long Street during the 2010 World Cup.

I wonder, though, what the legacy of the Brazil World Cup will be? Even more so than in the case of South Africa, it has shown up Fifa’s disregard for laws and the normal workings of democracy. (Will only countries with dubiously elected or appointed governments, like Qatar and Russia, be able to hold World Cups and Olympic games in the future?)

I think the best example of Fifa’s arrogance was its demand that Brazil lift its ban on drinking in stadiums for the World Cup. Instituted in 2003, this legislation was aimed at reducing violence between rival football clubs. As anyone who’s attended a World Cup match knows, the only beer (actually, ‘beer’) on sale at stadiums is Budweiser, one of Fifa’s official partners. And it was for this reason that Fifa requested that Brazil allow for the sale of beer at stadiums.

Unsurprisingly, very high levels of drunkenness have been reported at matches – so much so that even top ranking Fifa officials have noticed, and wondered if they went too far by not limiting beer sales.

Vuvuzelas for sale in Cape Town during the 2010 World Cup.

Vuvuzelas for sale in Cape Town during the 2010 World Cup.

There has also been an outcry about Fifa’s partnership with Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. The Lancet argued recently:

The visibility and physical presence of these companies and their products is likely to be huge at the World Cup events and side events throughout Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. … Latin America is taking substantial measures to try to introduce healthy food laws to combat childhood obesity. Efforts in countries, including Brazil, have ranged from improving school food options to labelling regulations and advertising restrictions for unhealthy foods. The 2014 World Cup’s food and drink partners and sponsors represent a direct attack on these attempts to better child health.

When it is held in developing nations, the World Cup opens up new markets to Big Food.

The issue here is Fifa’s disregard for sovereignty. Because it refuses to pay taxes to host nations and demands preferential treatment for its partners, these companies have for a fairly long period of time a substantial advantage over not only local competitors, but over governments and organisations attempting to promote healthy eating. In a time of heightened social, political, and economic conflict – and when public health interventions have the potential to save developing nations millions in healthcare costs – it seems to me that the costs of hosting World Cups are beginning to outweigh the benefits.

Creative Commons License
Tangerine and Cinnamon by Sarah Duff is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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