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'Kick in the rear' kick-starts Brazil's wave of change
Earlier this month, Fifa's general secretary Jerome Valcke was forced to apologise to the Brazilian government over his comments regarding the country's preparations for the 2014 World Cup. The remarks, originally made in French, were translated into both English and Portuguese, suggesting Mr Valcke had recommended 'a kick in the back-side' for Brazil to get their act together. Mr Valcke issued a most formal apology: "I lament profoundly that the incorrect interpretation of my words caused so much worry, " he said in a statement made public by the Brazilian government. Barely a week later, the Brazilian football establishment found itself in a roller coaster of a drama following the resignation of Ricardo Teixeira both as president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) and as chief of the Local Organising Committee for the World Cup.
Football has been a 'family' affair in Brazil for the past half century. Joao Havelange, the Brazilian multi-millionaire who became Fifa president in 1974, was instrumental in forming partnerships with multinational brands eager to spread the reach of their product as far as the ball spreads its magic. The package as we know today was shaped by the now 95-year-old Brazilian: the billboards and other displays of brand logos penetrated huge markets hitherto unreachable - communist countries and India, as well as the whole of Africa and the Americas. Not only that, every one had access to it on TV. Football became bigger than what anyone could have possibly imagined and Brazilian football became the symbol of the most perfect exponents of the game.
Havelange's power knew no bounds, and when he became too old to remain at the helm, he dynastically - in Brazil at least - passed the baton within his family to his then son-in-law Ricardo Teixera. Within Fifa, even though Sepp Blatter won the elections to succeed Havelange, the Brazilian family plan was that Teixeira would take over at the next elections in 2015. So Teixeira's resignation earlier this month, first from Brazil's CBF after 23 years and then just a few days ago from Fifa's executive committee, marks a huge shift.
Teixeira cited "health problems" as his reason for jumping ship this March, but it is widely rumoured that political alliances are being forged and broken behind the scenes. Tim Vickery, writing for ESPN from Brazil, describes it as "a political ruse" and describes Teixeira's flailing friendship with Blatter as a rupture within Brazil between the football magnate and the government. Teixeira had been close to ex-president Lula, a football fanatic who "was quick to see the advantage of an alliance with the head of the CBF". Vickery adds, "Brazil's national team is one of the strongest foreign policy resources the country possesses. "
When Dilma Rousseff ousted Lula as Brazilian president she reportedly refused to meet Teixeira who for her "represented the bloated, inept, self-serving, whiskey-sodden oligarchy she sought to sweep away". Teixeira has also been targeted by the Scottish journalist Andrew Jennings, who works tirelessly in his campaigning against corruption in Fifa. Jennings has celebrated Teixeira's fall as a triumph, suggesting "Blatter will be next". But amid the allegations of corruption and investigations into yesteryear deals, it seems Teixeira's resignation might be enough for now to calm the waters.
Teixeira's replacements - Jose Maria Marin will take over the CBF and Marco Polo del Nero succeeds him at the Fifa Committee - are not fresh blood brought in by the winds of change, but rather established men of football in their seventies who have been playing the power game for decades. If this is just another Fifa move to save face in the light of possible scandals, little will change.
For Brazil however, the main issue remains. And that is how to prepare to host this most enormous of events, and more importantly how to fund the exorbitant costs. Teixeira had argued most of the investment would come from the private sector but it is increasingly clear that public money will have to be devoted to the cause too. The loudest voice against all these old codgers, for want of a better word, comes from Romario, now turned politician, who has repeatedly and publicly condemned not just Teixeira but also Jerome Valcke. Romario accuses Fifa of aspiring to "create a State within a State" and has focused much attention on the issue of public money being spent on World Cup preparations.
Jennings is supportive of Romario - he wishes more players would take active roles in the political game and speak out against corruption. But we know from the lessons of Michel Platini that the most talented and beautiful artists of the game bloat and compromise when they reach echelons high enough to meander through the corridors of power. "It is said that power corrupts, but actually it's more true that power attracts the corruptible, " said the American science fiction author David Brin.
In the meantime, the world feast heads to Brazil, where with or without Teixeira it is clear the country needs to get a lot done if the world's major tournament is to go as smoothly as the party we all expect. The infrastructure, the logistics, the transportation, the ticketing . . . it is a mammoth exercise and in a country as huge, chaotic and ridden with problems anyway, the task at hand is huge. In a sense, with due respect, they need a good kick in the backside.
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