THE WORLD Cup kicks off in Sao Paulo tonight and will keep hundreds of millions of people all over the world glued to their television sets for the next 30 days which will feature 32 teams and a total of 64 matches. It might not have the history and tradition of the Olympic Games, but football is the world’s most popular spectator sport and this is its top and most eagerly-awaited tournament.
The finals may have lost some of their magic because of television’s blanket coverage of football and in particular the European Champions League that has become the stage for the world’s top players. Football fans will be familiar with all the leading players on show in Brazil, deprived of the excitement of seeing new talent for the first time as had been the case until a few decades ago.
Television has made football a multi-billion, globalised industry taking it to all corners of the world and making it a top advertising medium for the biggest multi-nationals. This money has made footballers, coaches and their agents extremely wealthy and given television a say over match schedules, but the actual game remains unchanged. There have been some minor modifications to the rules (back-passes, offside, dangerous play) to make games more entertaining and less physical, but otherwise little has changed in the way football is played.
The build-up to the 20th World Cup has been plagued with corruption allegations against FIFA, the sport’s governing body. There is now a big question mark over whether the 2022 World Cup would be staged in Qatar after allegations of bribery and rigged voting. Two members of the FIFA executive committee were suspended in connection with a case of cash-for-votes as was the Qatari member alleged to have been paying the bribes. Subsequently, a leaked e-mail written by the FIFA general secretary said that Qatar “had bought the World Cup”.
Perhaps corruption is inevitable given the huge amounts of money that football generates. What is a shame is that the host country usually ends up with the bill and FIFA with the profit. South Africa suffered big losses from staging the 2010 World Cup, while Brazil has spent €13bn on improving stadiums and infrastructure for this year’s competition, money that could have been put to much better use in a country with widespread poverty and social deprivation.
Of course this will be of little concern to the hundreds of millions of people hoping to over-dose on the entertainment, excitement and drama the beautiful game is capable of providing.