Tag Archives: FIFA

Mickey

Football: The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens is the perfect name for the latest Star Wars film. Like the generic food in the 80′s with labels which simply stated the contents within, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, uncolorfully describes the contents of the latest installment in this nearly 40 year old movie franchise.

Star Wars films have a tendency to be named like this: “The Empire Strikes Back” was about the Empire, striking back after the Rebels blew up their Death Star; “The Return of the Jedi” was about Luke Skywalker returning to confront his father and the Emperor as a full Jedi; and “The Phantom Menace” was about how George Lucas took his own much beloved story and nearly ruined it with Jar Jar Binks and Vader-Christ analogies. As the British would joke, “maybe Star Wars 8 should be named: it does exactly what it says on the tin.”

Without giving away any spoilers, “the force”, the unnamed energy that runs through all life in the Star Wars universe, indeed “awakens” during the film. But “The Force Awakens” also seems to have a double entendre because with the raging success of the reboot, the force of Star Wars as a brand for marketing and selling things has awakened.

Disney paid George Lucas $4 billion for the rights to Star Wars. No one has ever paid that amount of money for the rights to six old films, three of which are the filmic equivalent of Jaws 4,5, and 6. It’s a crazy amount of money but $4 billion might turn out to be a good deal for Disney because the true value of Star Wars isn’t the films, it’s the marketing.

Disney paid $4 billion for the rights to make the films that will sell the action figures, Lego sets, juice boxes, candies, plastic swords, flamethrowers, video games, and every conceivable toy or food item known to childhood. But Star Wars doesn’t stop at selling bedsheets, Star Wars has even be used to sell new cars to adults. There are several car commercials out there right now which play one of John Williams’ themes and/or have a voiceover which is instantly recognizable as a character from Star Wars and which then instructs you to purchase this new car and choose from the light side or the dark side of the dealer’s new sales force.

Very few things in our world cut across generations like Star Wars. I saw The Force Awakens in the theater with my mother and my seven year old daughter. I saw A New Hope with my mother when I was seven. And there is a good chance that my daughter will take her child to see a Star Wars movie when she has a seven year old, 30 years from now. I’ll probably still be around, 75 years old, and I’ll probably be there with a king sized bucket of popcorn.

See, Disney didn’t buy films, sure they are already in talks to make five new films in the next four years but the films aren’t the point, the films are just something to keep the myth alive and add to our understanding of the universe. They didn’t buy the rights to films, they bought a global cultural icon. They bought the next Mickey Mouse.

Mickey

And so, the executives at Disney must have had a good chuckle when they saw the title of the film, the Force Awakens. It’s not a coincidence that the film opened at Christmas. Disney’s force, in the global marketplace, re-awakened just in time to coincide with America’s most religious shopping holiday.

I hope this isn’t really a surprise to anyone. I mean, Mel Brooks in his film Spaceballs nailed the true meaning of Star Wars: Merchandising. The question isn’t whether this happened, the question is whether it’s a good thing. In other words, has Star Wars lost its soul?

Sure, of course it has. Nothing can top the first Star Wars film. Empire Strikes Back gets better critical reviews and was a bigger film in terms of box office but it was the originality of Star Wars, the uniqueness of that first experience, which can never be regained.

The latest film is ok. I didn’t hate it, though my daughter was quite bored. She found the seats in the theater (we sat in one of those modern theaters with the recliner seats) more interesting than the film. Throughout, she fidgeted with the motorized seat backs, sat back, lay forward, brought grandma popcorn, and so on. She didn’t laugh, cry, or get scared at any moment in the film. There was very little emotional investment in this movie for her. And after I asked her what her favorite parts were and she basically just liked a few of the more cute scenes (I can’t say more without giving something away).

But did it lose its soul?

This is a similar question we get as football fans. Football, like Star Wars, cuts across generations and has a longevity and deep cultural impact and so it was ripe for corporate appropriation. Football is much, much larger than Star Wars and much more meaningful to many cultures in many different ways than Star Wars will ever be. If Star Wars is Mickey Mouse, Football is Michael Thomas, charging through the midfield.

But the question of football’s soul remains. Football has been radically changed by Jabba the Hut and Boba Fett in FIFA and UEFA and by the Trade Federation that is the Football Association and the Premier League. The image has been smoothed over and football’s lovable scoundrels of the past, the Cantona’s and Maradona’s, are encased in carbonite and paid for by Coca-Cola, VISA, and Budweiser.

I hope football never loses its soul but I can’t say that it won’t. There’s too much at stake now for these massively wealthy men and when Adidas mentioned that they didn’t like the way van Gaal’s Man U played football it was the first sign that the corporate masters are trying to Jedi mind-trick the game in an unprecedented way. “These are not the results you are looking for, Louis.”

But I guess if there is a saving grace it’s that once the big money gets involved they do eventually give the people what they want. Star Wars, like FIFA, was a franchize on the verge of failure. Lucas had script 7 in his head and was ready to start production when Disney stepped in and bought the rights. They then made a film which was slick, took no chances, was full of nods to the past, and judging by the box office results, a huge success. They gave the people what they wanted. And with five new films in the next four years, including a film dedicated just to Han Solo‘s lost college years, they are going to keep giving the people exactly what they want.

And so will football.

Qq

Bonus: Who are your favorite players/managers/owners turned Star Wars Characters? Only-One Arsene Wenger (“That mad old wizard?”)? Darth Mou? Pep Guardiyoda? Sith Blatter?

Blatter

It’s time for players, fans, and associations to boycott FIFA

There’s an excellent interview of Gilberto Silva by Amy Lawrence for the Guardian this morning. I won’t ruin the read with spoilers but I want to pick up on one thing Gilberto says about FIFA that I completely agree with: FIFA is broken and it’s up to the players to fix it.

FIFA should have one job, increasing access to the sport through grass roots activities which culminate in a showcase event called the World Cup. FIFA’s main job, as far as I can tell, is to force players into labor for money spinning opportunities, which are given away by corrupt officials in exchange for votes, which see them enshrined in powerful positions where they can increase their own personal wealth through bribery, which culminates in a showcase event designed to do nothing but extract wealth from the host nation.

There are only three factors which can change this: the fans can refuse to watch, the sponsors can demand change, and the players can force change by refusing to participate.

The sponsors are already stepping up to the plate and have issued a statement that they want to see independent analysis of FIFA reforms and a culture change at FIFA. McDonalds, Coca-Cola, ADIDAS, Visa, and Anheuser-Busch are powerful players in this game and can’t afford to have their brands tarnished with Sepp Blatter’s inky legacy.

But where are the fans in all this? Fans talk about “kicking greed out of football” and will gladly protest their local club, which is a corporation by the way, but I have yet to see anyone organize a march from train station to Wembley Stadium protesting the corruption in FIFA. Where are the groups of fans showing up five minutes late for the England friendly? Where are the banners outside the stadium demanding that we kick actual greed out of football?

It’s happening in Latin America, but for some reason the protests have skipped over Europe. In Brazil this last World Cup there were a swarm of brave men and women who faced tear gas and rubber bullets in order to protest what the government were doing to their towns and homes under the watchful eye of FIFA.

I can guarantee that Russia and Qatar won’t allow any such scenes at their respective World Cups. No, there will be a monolithic silence which greets these events. Official flag waving, official smiling, everything good, nothing to see here. Because protesters will be handled with the ruthless efficiency of a military dictatorship.

So, while I can’t see protests at these games and the buildup to these games, especially in the dictatorships which are hosting them, I can see fans protesting in another way: refusing to watch the “friendlies”, qualifying matches, and ultimately the World Cup.

By watching these events, you are a participant in the violence. I know you just want to support your team and by extension your country. And I know you just want to feel proud of your country in a multinational sporting event. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t watch the games, games that have been bought and paid for through the most obviously corrupt and rigged system ever to stage a sporting event, games which have been given to countries which outlaw homosexuality and who will brutalize their own people into silence, and games which are being built literally on the bodies of our fellow human beings, those outcomes are a direct result of us still watching these matches. The whole system, building up to the games, keeping FIFA going, and keeping the sponsors happy requires the rest of us football fans to stand by silently and watch our games.

I hate to have to explain this, but because I will get people asking how watching a game makes them complicit, I’m gonna. The games require fans. Viewers inside and outside the stadiums are what the sponsors pay for. The sponsors pay for you to watch the games. Without the sponsors, the games don’t happen. So, without the guarantee that you will watch the games, the sponsors won’t sponsor the events, and if the sponsors won’t sponsor the events, the events don’t happen. You are the commodity which is being bought and sold.

Sadly, I don’t see the average North American or European football fan boycotting FIFA matches. Most of us aren’t going to travel to Russia or Qatar and thus be directly impacted by the oppression. Most of us aren’t going to go to Qatar and die building a stadium or have a family member die building a stadium. So, we will most likely grab some Budweisers, put on our ADIDAS shirt, buy a McDonald’s burger and Coke with our VISA card, and watch all the FIFA crap we can. Because we love football and the corruption and violence probably doesn’t directly affect us.

That leaves the protests up to the players. Because like the fans, if the players refuse to play, the events don’t happen.

The problem with that is FIFA have a power over the players which could prevent that kind of thing from ever happening. See, all players have to show up if their national team calls them up. If they refuse, they will get a three match (or longer) ban from their club.

Franck Ribery is the latest player to test this. He announced his retirement from international football and the response from the FFF was swift and unequivocal:

“It’s not up to him,” FFF president Noel Le Graet told Le Parisien. “If Ribery, in a few months, is in great form with his club and he’s indispensable to French football, he’ll be called up.”

That sentiment was echoed by former player, and now corrupt FIFA official, Michel Platini:

“I have zero understanding. It is not the decision of the players, whether they come to the national team. This is the decision of the coach…. This is again a very different situation. Franck Ribery can not simply decide whether he plays for France or not. If coach Didier Deschamps invites him, he must come to the national team.This is defined in the FIFA Statutes. If he does not come, he is suspended for three games with Bayern Munich.”

How does a rule like this exist? Basically, it’s because the local Football Associations allow it and enforce it. The rule is designed to prevent teams from refusing to allow their players to play but the rule isn’t written or interpreted like that and the result is a forced labor situation.

I can think of no other place in the world where I can be compelled to work for a company that I completely disagree with. I might compromise my values in order to feed my family but FIFA can’t come to my work and demand my services and if I refuse, tell my employer to dock me three weeks wages. That would be insane!

In practice, this rule is rarely enforced but FIFA threaten players with it all the time. I would love to see a player like Ribery sue FIFA over this rule. European labor laws are decidedly in favor of worker’s rights and I suspect that FIFA would lose, handily.

But even with this absolutely absurd labor law, I don’t understand how a player with any conscience could participate in a World Cup. Especially a World Cup being hosted in a nation which is killing people to build the stadiums that you would play in. You’d be playing in the most glittering green graveyard ever built: surely the ghosts would haunt you forever.

The one argument that always gets thrown back at me whenever I blast FIFA and our complicity in their greed, corruption, abuse, and slavery is that FIFA does a lot to improve access to football. But Gilberto put it eloquently when describing the wholesale failure of FIFA to promote grassroots football:

“Look at what has been happening in our local football. Many clubs still need big improvement in their infrastructure. Some don’t even have a good training ground. That’s shameful in 2015. In some favelas, we don’t play football in the streets any more. Some of the places we used to play there is now a big building. We lost so many of those spaces. Something must be done to find a model, a good structure to help the kids be more professional without losing what is in our blood, the joga bonito, the nice skills that can make another Neymar, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Pelé … ”

FIFA doesn’t care about grassroots football. They are sitting on a stack of money that could be used to right these ills but they refuse to use that money for actual change and instead it’s used as a vote-buying mechanism to keep men like Blatter and Platini in power.

FIFA is no longer a football entity. They exist for the sole purpose of bilking football fans so that the leaders at the top can become multi-millionaires. They have no compunction about forcing players into labor and show no guilt at the bodies piling high under the stadiums they are building.

Why would any of us — players, fans, and football associations — participate in anything this organization does?

Qq

CONCACAF Gold Cup: the worst cup ever? Plus: Fox goes Full Trump

This is a brave night to cool a courtesan.
I’ll speak a prophecy ere I go.
When priests are more in word than matter,
When brewers mar their malt with water,
When nobles are their tailors’ tutors,
No heretics burned but wenches’ suitors,
When every case in law is right,
No squire in debt nor no poor knight,
When slanders do not live in tongues,
Nor cutpurses come not to throngs,
When usurers tell their gold i’ th’ field,
And bawds and whores do churches build—
Then shall the realm of Albion
Come to great confusion.
Then comes the time, who lives to see ’t,
That going shall be used with feet.
This prophecy Merlin shall make, for I live before his time.
– The Fool, King Lear

FIFA is crumbling. The head of FIFA has been suspended after four major sponsors — Sugar Water, Clown Burgers, Debt Card, and American Beer — demanded that the beleaguered Sepp Blatter step down. It is, as the fool notes above, a time when the usurers count their gold in public, when the brewers water down their beer, when the Pope sounds like a rational person, and a time when Theo Walcott is playing like one of the world’s best strikers. In other words, it is a time of great confusion.

But let me get back to FIFA and their criminal gang for a moment. There was a brief moment of clarity when FIFA suspended Blatter and his sidekick Michel Platini, along with General Secretary Valcke, under a storm of allegations of bribery and corruption. The allegations are specifically that Platini took a bribe to take a dive against Blatter during a FIFA general election. 

Those allegations followed on the arrests of several high level FIFA officials, including Jeff Webb, the former FIFA vice-president and head of FIFA’s North American, Central America, and Caribbean Confederation, known by the mouthful acronym “CONCACAF”. Webb isn’t alone in the CONCACAF scandal, the secretary general, Enrique Sanz, was fired in August. Mr. Sanz had taken over from Chuck Blazer, who was banned from all football activities for life in 2011 — because of… wait for it, wait for it… he had Trump hair. No, sorry, it was because of corruption.

You would think that an organization which is crumbling at such pace would find it difficult to organize matches but you’d be wrong. The show must go on: there are games to play, stadiums to be filled. and bribes to be paid.

One of those games is today’s match between USA and Mexico being held in the Rose Bowl, Pasadena California. The match is for the CONCACAF Gold Cup which sounds like an amazing tournament and cup but it’s really yet another illustration of how FIFA can turn any situation into a money-spinning event.

This is going to be a weird ride so, sit back for a second and hang on. Today’s match is the first CONCACAF Gold Cup. Winner of the CONCACAF Gold Cup gets to go to the FIFA Confederations Cup, to be played in Russia, and the Copa América Centenario, which is a fancy name for the Copa America, which was always really just the Copa South America but is being hosted by the United States for the first time ever.

Confused yet? Wait, because when it comes to FIFA and CONCACAF, our cups runneth over.

Ok, so, the Confederations Cup is basically the pre-World Cup. It’s a tournament hosted by the World Cup host nation in the year before they host the World Cup. The teams at this tournament are the host nation (Росси́я), the World Cup winners (Germany), the AFC Cup winners (Australia), the Copa America winners (Chile!), The CONCACAF (Gold) Cup winners (decided  today), Africa Cup of Nations winners (2017), the UEFA Euro 2016 winners, and the 2016 OFC winners.

CONCACAF admission to the Confederations Cup used to be decided by the CONCACAF Cup winner from the nearest year, so in this case, that would have been Mexico because they won the 2015 CONCACAF Cup (which was one of the most controversial tournaments in CONCACAF history). But the problem is that the CONCACAF cup is held every two years. So, prior to 2013 teams would intentionally field weakened teams in the CONCACAF Cup which was held 3 years out from the World Cup and then everyone would field better sides for the tournament which granted admission to the Confederations Cup.

The simple answer is to stop having a Confederations Cup every two years, but that doesn’t make money. So, instead, CONCACAF decided to have an extra match, a one-time playoff between the winners of the 2013 CONCACAF Cup and the winners of the 2015 CONCACAF Cup. It’s pretty much the dumbest solution anyone has ever conceived: hey, let’s have a 90 minute decider, to give one country access to a prestigious tournament, between the team that was good enough to win an entire tournament this season and between the team who were good enough to win that same tournament, two years ago.

To recap, CONCACAF used to host a meaningless tournament every four years (e.g. the 2013 CONCACAF Cup) which used to be treated as meaningless by teams because it coincided with the Confederations Cup and didn’t grant them admission to that cup. So, to fix that problem, CONCACAF didn’t get rid of the meaningless tournament, they made it meaningful by making the winning of that tournament admission to a once-every-four-year-one-time-playoff. This one match was contrived to ensure that an entire tournament is meaningful.

As I said, when it comes to FIFA, our cups truly runneth over.

Trumped

And just when you thought that this whole FIFA sideshow couldn’t get any dumber, Fox Soccer said “OH YEAH? Look at how dumb we can get! We can win the Dipshit World Cup!” and they released a “Trump Pump” video to get USA soccer fans “pumped up” for the USA v. Mexico CONCACAF Gold Cup above.

The video features cuts from Donald Trump’s speeches which talk about how hard working an great America is and can be again (if we elect Trump). The problem with this whole thing is that Trump said some fucking racist shit about Mexicans. I tried to think of a better way to put that but there isn’t one. This is a man who said,

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The Mexican television station Azteca pulled quotes from that racist ass speech and put them into a commercial featuring Trump talking about how “American doesn’t win anymore” and ending with “the American dream is dead”.

I actually don’t have a problem with the Mexican television station using Trump in their ad. They are using Donald Trump’s racist speech against him, mocking him, and mocking America for keeping this racist in the polls.

But what Fox Soccer Channel did next was very strange. They clipped together a bunch of Trump quotes glorifying America and ending with “we will make America great again” in order to promote their coverage of the same game. Instead of mocking Trump, a man who deserves derision for making racist comments about Mexicans, Fox threw their hat in the ring with the racist to promote their match.

I’d say it’s astonishing but really, this is Fox Soccer we are talking about here.

The only thing that is actually astonishing is that the tweet and video still exists. As soon as I saw the video I figured someone would delete the tweet, that an apology would be issued, and that an intern would be thrown under the bus. But apparently, Fox Soccer channel has no shame.

Luckily the match is available live on Mexican television y yo hablo Español, un poco.

¿Como se dice “Trump and Fox Soccer are wankers” en Español?

“Trump y Fox Soccer son gilipollas¹” works.

Qq

¹In Spain. Not sure abut Mexico. Pendejos?