Fans at the World Cup in South Africa 2010. Credit: Celso Flores
By now, nearly six million people have watched John Oliver’s red card exposé on FIFA, which originally aired two weeks ago on his new HBO show, Last Week Tonight. FIFA is the World Cup’s governing body, an organization Oliver called “comically grotesque,” riddled with charges of corruption, bribery and extortion. Ruled by an evil mastermind with the ridiculous name of Sepp Blatter — “If your name is Sepp you probably strangled somebody in a bar fight” declared Oliver. — FIFA claims to be a non-profit, albeit one with a reserve fund of $1 billion dollars.
This is all news to me. When my wife and I were in our soccer parent years, we gazed horrified at a future of soggy Saturdays spent half-heartedly cheering our kids on in a sport where goals seemed to be scored biannually. We gently encouraged them to take up some other activity (rowing, scouting, mild drug use). Freed from the chains of soccer tyranny, I never gave the sport another thought. (Though I hear we have a team in Seattle, which is averaging an astonishing and league-leading 2.13 goals per game!)
But is it really so surprising to learn that FIFA reaps huge profits by bringing the World Cup to a different country every four years, avoids paying taxes and demands host cities build new stadiums and make new laws?
The $270 million arena erected in the remote jungle city of Manaus will be used for only four games, after which, Oliver says, it will become “the world’s most expensive bird toilet.” In deference to its beer sponsor, FIFA also strong-armed the Brazilian Senate into passing the “Budweiser Law,” which will allow beer to be sold at games even though the country banned alcohol years ago because too many fans were being murdered in booze-fueled riots.
Oliver, whose comic métier is in finding the perfect analogy for outrageous institutional behavior, likens FIFA’s money-grubbing policies to a Brazilian wax, where they scour cash from “places you didn’t even know you had it.” Oliver admits, however, that he still loves the game, which is really the secret to the continued adoration of any sport despite the greedy machinations going on behind the scenes. FIFA's Brazilian waxes notwithstanding, the love of the game seems to be, at least for the fans, above irony and corruption.
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