Anyone following the FIFA PR machine as it trips and skids its way through its response to the chaos unfolding in Brazil could be forgiven for thinking we’re in pantomime season. As the Confederations Cup quickly turns from close-season money spinner into a full frontal exposure of a nation in crisis, the villainous outline of Sepp Blatter looms large over the country. Meanwhile self-appointed spokesman for the occasion Jerome Valcke staggers around like the back end of a tandem horse, pulled this way and that as a nationwide protest movement threatens to boil over. With the World Cup still to come in 2014, an extended run looks likely.
That FIFA have failed to really appraise their own role in the meltdown shouldn’t really come as a surprise. In a year that has seen an ethics committee, set-up to guide the Executive Committee towards a semblance of order, fall on its sword in despair at being unable to make itself heard by a grandiose and self-serving autocracy, it’s hardly surprising that the bigwigs in Zurich see themselves as the victims whilst a country creaks and groans under the unbearable pressure of two tournaments hopelessly beyond their means to pull off.
The issues that have brought tens of thousands to the streets in protest are a complex product of a failed relationship between a country and its leaders but the part that concerns FIFA is reducible to an easy to understand formula. The people are keen to know why they are being forced to invest $13bn from the public purse in a product that is projected to earn $4bn for the world governing body, whilst domestic transport, health and welfare structures suffer through chronic under-investment. It’s an arrangement, just like all World Cups, whereby the host nation puts up the capital for the leadership to cream off the returns. The real wonder here is how it’s taken until 2013 for a mass consciousness to develop that the books don’t balance.
FIFA have been quick to quash any suggestion that their presence has in any way stoked the flames. General Secretary Valcke’s protestations that “this is not the fault of FIFA. This is a Brazilian problem” are lacking in humility, but compensating with all the bombastic pomp that so often follows these moments of finger-pointing from the world’s media. All the PR in the world though can’t save the Exec Com from what is becoming an increasingly transparent truth – football’s role as the great social pacifier is looking shaky and without it FIFA’s role as an institution beyond reproach cannot any longer be guaranteed.