As an international body they have consistently faced allegations of corruption and bribery, and earlier this month FIFA President, Sepp Blatter admitted he sees the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar as a “mistake”.
Now, with less than three days until the tournament kicks off in the spiritual home of football, the Brazilian Government joins FIFA in a gargantuan PR challenge to win the hearts and minds of its own citizens and an increasingly sceptical global audience.
Since Brazil was awarded the World Cup, the decision has divided opinion and created widespread dischord.
Back in 2011, the Brazilian government began a process of driving gangs out of areas near the World Cup and Olympic stadiums. In a country where inequality has fallen, and the middle class is growing, many still feel that public spending on the World Cup would be better off going to health and education. This sentiment has led to major unrest – October last year saw protests disrupting a FIFA visit to one of the venue stadiums.
Indeed, at last year’s Confederations Cup, essentially a curtain-raiser to the main event, both Blatter and Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff were booed during their speeches in Brasilia. As a result, FIFA announced that neither are likely to speak at the World Cup opening ceremony on 12th June.
Even the country’s most obvious advocates for the World Cup are turning their backs on the idea. Romario, star of Brazil’s 1994 World Cup triumph now turned politician, summed up a large portion of the country’s feelings, saying:
“When Brazil won the bid to host the World Cup, our country was different. The bid promised to generate employment and income, promote tourism and strengthen the country’s image. Since then, Brazil has been affected by the turbulence in the world economy just like any other country; the expense of the World Cup is crippling us.”
Football means everything in Brazil. When the country last hosted the World Cup in 1950 they lost the decisive match to Uruguay in front of a 174,000 audience. At least three Brazil fans committed suicide in the stadium on that day.
It is often said that sport, and football in particular, is an effective unifier. In fractured nations such as Nigeria, South Africa, Bosnia and Libya, the national teams’ exploits on the pitch have helped bridge deep political divides. However, it remains to be seen if this will have the same effect over the next few weeks.
If Brazil wins, then FIFA and the Brazilian Government can count the World Cup as a PR success, but they lose, both parties may feel that the $13.3bn spend may have been better utilised elsewhere.