I never thought I’d use the word riveting to describe a 3-hour YouTube video, especially a recorded livestream of a panel on the questionable nature of many of FIFA’s dealings in World Cup host countries. Too common knowledge to be riveting, right? Wrong! The day has arrived and, yes, this video is riveting.
Allow me to set the stage: it’s last Thursday night and we’re in a room in the building of the journalists’ union in Rio. On the panel, renowned investigative journalist Andrew Jennings and representatives from our partners at Comitê Popular Rio, a network of advocates and citizens monitoring the impacts of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics on Rio’s citizens.
If you’re a reader of this blog, much of what will be covered in this panel will not come as news to you: the fact that roughly 250,000 Brazilians are affected by forced evictions because of these events, the fact that local authorities keep denying this is happening despite such powerful video evidence to the contrary, the brutality of families left struggling to rebuild their lives after being uprooted for a 30-day tournament.
So here’s where it gets interesting: cue to minute 149, when we learn that there are actually two FIFA representatives in the audience. This is remarkable for many reasons, including the fact that FIFA has usually seemed immune to these critiques, especially in Brazil, the said land of football. Or the fact that FIFA has never before been open to dialogue around abuses connected to its business.
The FIFA representatives, who are from the organization’s public relations department, sit through more than two hours of hard-hitting presentations from the panelists (the panel title is a reference to the mafia, inviting participants to meet the “FIFA Famiglia”). And then, they ask for a chance to speak, and this is when you won’t be able to stop watching. In retrospect, it might not have been the best idea to open their statement by complaining about the tardiness in the start of the event, but here’s what happened when they did…
What’s clear to me from the exchange is that the ongoing protests throughout Brazil –many questioning the massive investments being made for these tournaments in detriment of great social needs for healthcare and education– have made enough noise to reach the upper echelons of FIFA and compel them to send some representatives to do damage control in the lead up to next year’s kick-off. Sponsors too are worried about the protests continuing during the games and affecting profits, and they’ve already been reassured by Brazilian president Dilma that she will do “all in her power” to ensure a World Cup of peace (and as we’ve started to see last week in Rio, maybe that means more arrests and new laws to curb protests).
I believe FIFA when they say that forced evictions are not good for their image, and therefore not in their interest. But to show they are serious about stopping forced evictions, they must do more than just send PR representatives to Brazil to do damage control. They must make respect for human rights an nonnegotiable condition for host countries, they must introduce concrete measures to ensure human rights principles and protections are incorporated and upheld in all construction related to the tournament, and they must use their influence to make clear to governments that human rights violations will not be tolerated.
In the meantime, our partners are still awaiting a clear answer to the question they asked FIFA during the debate: will FIFA agree to a meeting at their headquarters in Switzerland to directly hear the concerns of Brazilian civil society groups affected by 2014 World Cup construction? In the meeting, the representatives promised to “bring the request back to FIFA” and then respond. We are waiting.