Authorities want focus to be on World Cup games, not troubles

MARIO TAMA / GETTY IMAGES A mural in San Paulo of multi-colored hands supporting the planet marked with a Brazilian flag is splotched with graffiti, as a pedestrian passes by.
MARIO TAMA / GETTY IMAGES A mural in San Paulo of multi-colored hands supporting the planet marked with a Brazilian flag is splotched with graffiti, as a pedestrian passes by.
Posted: June 13, 2014

FINALLY, THE 2014 World Cup begins today when host nation Brazil plays Croatia at the new Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo.

And if you are FIFA president Sepp Blatter or Brazil president Dilma Rousseff, this match could not come soon enough.

Once the games begin in an event like a World Cup, they take precedence. The drama on the pitch jumps to the forefront of the public's eye and pushes other issues to the background.

And while it may be for different reasons, Blatter and Rousseff are eager to have the eyes of the world focused away from off-the-pitch World Cup concerns.

In a nationally televised speech on the eve of the Cup opener, Rousseff urged "pessimists" to publicly support the tournament and temporarily step away from the social protests that have highlighted the run up to the World Cup.

Rousseff is playing on Brazilians' love of soccer and the immense pride they take in their national team to avert more of the angry demonstrations that have been held to protest the record-setting cost of $11.5 billion.

"The national team represents nationality," Rousseff said. "It's above governments, parties and the interests of any group."

This has not been the big "futbol party" the Brazil government had hoped for as it hosts the world's most popular sporting event for the first time since 1950.

In a country that still has serious problems with regard to poverty, education, health care and transport, there are many Brazilians who feel the money could have been better spent elsewhere than hosting a monthlong soccer tournament.

The protests that embarrassed the government during last summer's practice test, the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, have not stopped.

A recent poll said three of every four Brazilians believe there has been corruption in the World Cup process.

A report earlier this year said many of the construction companies that had received bids to work on building stadiums and improving infrastructure had increased contributions to Rousseff's Workers Party since the World Cup was awarded 7 years ago.

Rousseff has said the costs of the Cup are being "meticulously analyzed by auditing agencies" and that if corruption is found, "those responsible will receive maximum punishment."

When? Right after the tournament is done and the eyes of the world aren't focused squarely on Brazil.

"I'm certain, in the 12 host cities, visitors are going to mix with a happy, generous and hospitable people and be impressed by a nation full of natural beauty and which fights each day to become more equal," Rousseff said.

Blatter, who has been FIFA president since 1998, could only wish he had a national pride argument to cover up the massive warts surrounding his organization.

On Tuesday, the 78-year-old native of Switzerland received an embarrassing public slap in the face when leading officials from UEFA - the European soccer nations - revolted against his leadership and his intention to seek a fifth term in 2015.

UEFA basically told Blatter he must honor his pledge in 2011 to not seek another term.

FIFA is again under fire for another massive corruption scandal. The Sunday Times in London released a series that included documents detailing allegations that officials on the Qatar bid committee had used up to $5 million in bribe money to gain the 2022 World Cup.

FIFA always has had scandals, but Blatter's tenure seems to be even more corrupt than normal, as Dutch FA president Michael van Praag reminded reporters, regarding what he said to Blatter during his meeting with UEFA.

"I said . . . 'I like you a lot, there is nothing personal here, but the reputation of FIFA is today inextricably linked to corruption. FIFA has a president. You are responsible. You should not stand again ' "

At the opening of the 64th FIFA Congress yesterday in Sao Paulo, Blatter said that FIFA was facing "important times" and that it must "carry the flames of honesty."

Typical of Blatter, he tried to shift the issue from corruption to soccer as a force for good in the world.

He then jumped to the bizarre by suggesting the game could be played on other planets with the World Cup being supplanted by an interplanetary competition.

And someday, Wile E. Coyote will actually catch and eat the roadrunner.

"[Soccer] is not just a game, it is a multibillion dollar business," Blatter said. "I don't know if that is good or not.

"It creates controversial situations and then some difficulties. In this changing world, little is beyond the reach of politics and economics.

"Ladies and gentlemen, let's go together forward for the good of the game. We must carry the flame of honesty . . . or we betray the true spirit of this game we love."

Blatter and Rousseff can only hope the games will garner most of the attention for the next month, leaving the other stuff to slip into the background.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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