Guest Post by *Derek Charles Catsam
I recently returned from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was a remarkable experience in a beautiful country. Everywhere we went people were gracious, joyful hosts. We ate fantastic churrasqueira (the Brazilian barbecue that will fuel my dreams for months) and drank among friends. The games were tremendous, the colorful visiting fans (with special mention to the dancing, chanting, singing, drinking Argentine throngs) made the World Cup the event that it is. The protests were more intermittent than expected. But the issues raised were as valid as ever.
I was based in Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul on Brazil’s southern border with Uruguay and Argentina. I attended four matches in Estadio Beria-Rio, the home of Sports Club Internacional: France-Honduras, Algeria-South Korea, Argentina-Nigeria, and the round of 16 match pitting eventual champions Germany against the Algeria. With 32 teams competing, the first two weeks of the World Cup are an unparalleled Carnival of Nations. Porto Alegre was in the midst of a Brazilian winter, hardly freezing, but occasionally raw and damp. The bikinis and swimming shorts that many of you saw as the regular going-to-commercial interludes on ESPN were many hundreds of miles north.
The tournament, which equaled the most goals (171) ever scored in a World Cup, was spectacularly entertaining and Germany is certainly a worthy champion. But once the confetti cleared, the last drinks were downed, tourists returned home, and Brazilians shook off the shameful way the Seleção flamed out of the tournament (and I do not for one second believe that the presence of Thiago Silva and Neymar against Germany and the Netherlands would have made much difference—Brazil’s problems were systemic) a familiar question looms: Was hosting the World Cup worth it?
For a quarter century Chuck Blazer was the most powerful soccer administrator in the United States and CONCACAF. He was a member of the FIFA Executive Committee from 1996 to 2013. Investigative journalist Andrew Jennings revealed in 2011 that Blazer was under FBI investigation for tax evasion. Thanks to a devastating, detailed report by The New York Daily News published this weekend, we now also know that Blazer became an FBI informant. (Click here for full text.)
In doing so, U.S. authorities sought to gain “a rare window into the shadowy financing of international soccer, a world notorious for its corruption and lavish excess,” the Daily News reports.
Blazer’s debauchery is legendary, as this blog has highlighted in the past. But the Daily News presented new evidence documenting how he “failed to pay income taxes for more than a decade while hauling in tens of millions of dollars, a discovery the feds used to threaten him with prosecution and convert him into a cooperating witness.” The newspaper provides fresh evidence of Blazer’s misallocation of funds and misuse of assets belonging to CONCACAF. He went so far as to run up $29 million in credit card charges. Damning proof, it is alleged, that Blazer was “intoxicated by power and cash.”
The 69-year-old soccer official, now dying of colon cancer, “lived like there was no tomorrow,” emboldened by global football administration’s modus operandi—one that makes “you feel like you’re the king of the world,” one source told the Daily News; “And it’s all for soccer.”
Addendum (11/6/2014): Listen to “Beyond The Pitch” podcast “dissect and tell the story behind the tale that is titled Mister Ten Percent, Chuck Blazer, a lengthy piece that digs deep into his background and explains how a soccer dad from New York rose to the dizzying heights of world football royalty, how he climbed the ladder armed with ambition and ingenuity and what led to his fall as fresh reports in New York media suggest that he is now cooperating with federal authorities.”
The day before the magic kingdom opens in São Paulo, WKAR’s “Current State” host Mark Bashore interviewed me about the politics of the World Cup. We discussed FIFA profits and institutional reform, special World Cup laws and extraterritoriality, nation-building, development, civic protests, and what the future holds for Brazil, on and off the pitch. Originally broadcast live on June 11, 2014. Take a listen!
Alexandra Wrage, a Canadian attorney and founder of TRACE International, a business anti-corruption group, was interviewed by BBC Newsnight about the ongoing FIFA corruption scandal over Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.
Wrage worked for FIFA’s governance reform commission from 2011 to 2013. In April 2013 she told the Wall Street Journal “that the FIFA executive committee ‘undermined the recommendations we were making’at almost every turn.” She resigned because “you don’t keep doing the same thing if you’re not having an impact.”
Wrage believes change is more likely to come if Swiss law regulates locally based non-profits like FIFA (sic!) more effectively and, perhaps, if a groundswell of popular criticism can compel corporate sponsors to take action.
Click here to watch the 4-minute interview.
I was recently interviewed by BBC Brasil‘s João Fellet and asked to compare the hosting of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa with the preparations for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Below is the Portuguese text of what transpired [translate] and a link to read the full article.
15 May 2014
BBC Brasil – Quatro anos depois da Copa de 2010, o que ficou do torneio para os sul-africanos?
Peter Alegi - Há um tipo de nostalgia por aquele período, por aquela sensação de unidade, solidariedade, de estar no centro do mundo. Os estrangeiros que foram para a Copa perceberam que os estereótipos negativos sobre a África do Sul não eram verdadeiros, e isso ainda faz o país se sentir bem. As emoções de um carnaval como a Copa são difíceis de bater.
BBC Brasil – Houve outros legados?
Alegi - O legado emocional foi importante de diferentes maneiras. Ele fez as pessoas sentirem um senso de unidade num país ainda muito dividido quanto a raças, classes e gêneros. Nos estádios sul-africanos, as pessoas cantam o hino abraçadas ou de mãos dadas, como nas igrejas. Num país onde o povo não tem muitas oportunidades de estar junto, a mágica do nacionalismo explodiu de uma maneira positiva.
Isso aconteceu só 16 anos após o apartheid. Sediar um evento bem sucedido fez com que os sul-africanos se sentissem muito orgulhosos.
O torneio também despertou sentimentos de panafricanismo. Por um ou dois meses, os sul-africanos se sentiram parte do continente africano. Isso foi encorajador, levando em conta os problemas do país com a xenofobia.
To read full article click here.
Listen to “Beyond Vuvuzelas and Samba: Lessons from South Africa 2010 for Brazil 2014,” a lecture I delivered at Brigham Young University’s David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies on March 5, 2014.
The talk analyzes the political, economic, and cultural dynamics of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and its similarities to the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Click here to watch the video.