Monday, June 07, 2010

Can the World Cup Save the World?

Anyone who frequents this blog will be accustomed to the ravings of a lunatic so I must emphasise to begin with that I didn't make the above question up. Part of FIFA's explicit agenda is to save the World.

In terms of the history of institutions, FIFA is a doozie. It's mind-bogglingly big, federating more nations than any multinational and indeed more than the United Nations. It turns over multi-billions of dollars, allegedly as a non-profit organisation, from its headquarters in Switzerland, where it pays bugger-all tax. FIFA is utterly corrupt and, given its lack of accountability, quite possibly so from top to bottom. Its obstinate rejection of any video technology to aid in referee decisions only reinforces this impression. Its corporate, non-national structure means it does not answer to any constituency, even indirectly.

The political power of FIFA should not be underestimated, and if any international political scientist is not accounting for it they're missing a biggie. One of the first steps a new state will make (with the Balkanisation of Eastern Europe for example) is apply for membership of FIFA. This application has actually been prioritised over an application to join the United Nations in cases.

The main thing long-time President Sepp Blatter insists upon is that the government does not interfere with the national soccer. From time to time national federations are suspended from FIFA, when they will flurry to adjust to Blatter's demands. It's quite a lot like insisting upon the seperation of church and state, and I invite readers to think about how powerful that makes this bloke Sepp Blatter. Bloody powerful.

I am a big supporter of Australia's World Cup bid, but we should not be naive. Australia would not be running it. South Africa had to agree to forego a lot of sovereignty to FIFA, whose perks included tax free status and an unlimited and unimpeded license to move money in and out of the country in any form.

Now as I suggested in the beginning, FIFA has an explicitly progressive agenda. A few years ago it insisted that all national federations raise the minimum percentage of their funding for women's soccer from 10% to 20%. 220 odd countries, just like that. It doesn't even sound much to a Western mind (the USA had a constitutional decision that government sports funding must be 50% for women - and it shows in their women's sport), but note that this requirement is insisted upon from Kenya to Iran, from The Solomon Islands to Ecuador. It's very proactive stuff, and the governments move to comply.

I can feel a digression coming on when it comes to FIFA's major campaigns against racism in soccer. Australians who have been exposed to not much more than popular press might even find them ironic, because soccer is still often associated with hooliganism and racism. A football game can not produce racism of course, it just provides a jolly opportunity for racism to come to the surface in an ugly way, and we've seen it often enough.

FIFA and the European football federations tackled racism head on with advertising, stadium redesigns, modern crowd management and heavy policing, including with lifetime bans, utilising continental blacklists of hooligans, and the rest. They've had enormous success in combating the racism and the hooliganism, but from what I've read the cycle has gotten going as strong as ever in Eastern Europe and the potential remains everywhere.

The problem is, as many governments have discovered over the past century, soccer is too big and too popular to ban. So the only solution is to confront the problem directly. The effect, in my view, is that racism in society is actually tackled.

In Australia we failed to utilise football as an opportunity to tackle racism in our society. Ethnic rivalries between clubs is the standard scapegoat of all the problems of the old Australian National Soccer League, even though the Crawford Report mostly pointed to corruption and an archaic voting system as the problems. The solution was to lock all of these old clubs, with their decades of tradition and community connection, out of the A-League. It was a monumental mistake in my opinion, but I've digressed too far...

The 1Goal Campaign

The flagship progressive feature of World Cup 2010, apart from the fact that it is in Africa, is the 1Goal campaign. For my own part I am almost shocked at how perfect the goal of this is, which is to eliminate illiteracy, insisting that every child on the planet be schooled. This is an achievable goal and a basic milestone in the stabilisation and development of World Civilisation. I would argue that it is about the single greatest World priority actually, quite independently of my obvious neurotic passion for soccer, and have done so. Clearly it goes with the whole Africa thing, as that's where most of the work will need to be.

As I write 8,154,180 people have signed up to 1Goal. I am one, and I heartilly recommend you add your name. Just go to the site and do what you're told.

So how does 1Goal propose to address this problem? Well explicitly it doesn't want our money, and as far as I can see it is pure lobby, a global petition to, "the governments of the World." Fair enough, but I do question how wholehearted FIFA is, given there is no link to 1Goal from the FIFA World Cup front page.

The thing is I see a real potential for this campaign, and do in general believe that what I call 'the globalising middle classes' do have a real political role to play now, but it doesn't seem to me that the campaign is really being pushed, beyond its stylish, star-studded launch and then automated internet collection.

What I would love to see, and what could actually make an impact, is the campaign featured, maybe for 90 seconds, before the World Cup Final in front of a billion people. This billion people would include, for the overwhelming part, all the leaders, corporate and political, all the journalists, judges, generals and pop icons. In short, every player is watching, aware that a billion others are watching. That is the moment of maximum opportunity, but I doubt that it will be taken.

But sign up I reckon. It would be great to get to 10,000,000 anyway. I think it is a unique lobby, without borders, without particular cultural biases, or even a common language. Despite my cynicism about the 1Goal campaign, I think the goal itself is actually achievable, so I think it's worth humouring FIFA en masse, to see what might be pushed.

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