Soccer’s governing body is among protesters’ targets as Brazilians stage the country’s biggest street demonstrations in two decades. Being the focus of fury goes hand in hand with running the world’s most-popular sport, according to its top administrator.
“I don’t think the goal of FIFA is to be loved by the world,” FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke said in an interview at his organization’s temporary offices facing Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach. “As long as you have this responsibility to protect the game, to make decisions which are not always the nicest ones for some people, I’m not sure you can avoid criticism.”
While the three-week protests that have drawn more than a million Brazilians onto the streets are mostly focused on improving public services and ending political corruption, the Confederations Cup, a test event for next year’s World Cup in Brazil, has provided a platform for demonstrators, who have thrown rocks at buses bearing Zurich-based FIFA’s logo.
Some marchers have brandished placards demanding schools and hospitals be raised to “FIFA Standard,” a requirement that the 12 stadiums for the World Cup must meet. In Salvador, a host city, workmen pulled down two giant “FIFA Out” posters on a highway close to the arena where Brazil beat Italy 4-2 on June 22.
Brazil topped neighbor Uruguay 2-1 last night to advance to the June 30 final of the two-week Confederations Cup. World and European champion Spain faces Italy in the other semifinal today.
The scale of the protests has been a surprise to FIFA, whose contingency planning before the tournament didn’t foresee such opposition.
“We had no indication that would happen, and definitely no indication that it would reach such a level,” said Valcke, who has made nine trips to Brazil in the past year.
Valcke, 52, said he recognizes his organization has an image problem. FIFA has been forced to make changes following corruption allegations during the process to select hosts of the $5 billion World Cup and the 2011 election for the body’s president.
In May, officials from its 209 member associations convened on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean to vote through a package of corporate governance changes. The venue and the sight of executives being ferried around in luxury vehicles conflicted with public pronouncements by the organization that it was becoming more accountable and transparent.
“We have to change the image and the perception of the world of what FIFA is and what FIFA is doing,” Valcke said.
Valcke said the sums used to fund FIFA congresses is small when set against the more than $1 billion it’s spent to boost the sport. The ruling body disperses income from the World Cup to national federations and to develop soccer in poor countries.
Still, doubts remain about whether all of its work is successful. FIFA promised more than $1 million to officials in Mozambique to convert a 14-room colonial mansion in Maputo into federation offices. The 2,700 square meter (29,000 square foot) plot won’t have room for a soccer field, according to the seller Izak Holtzhausen, a South African-born cattle farmer.
While reforms have created a stronger regulatory framework within FIFA, the organization resisted changes such as publishing executive pay and introducing term limits. Valcke said releasing the details of salaries would achieve little.
“We have reached a level of transparency and compliance which is quite high,” he said. “You will say, ‘It’s not enough, guys. You have to publish your salaries’, but why? Whatever we earn I’m sure we will be criticized.”
In Brazil, protesters are angered at FIFA’s demand for tax exemptions for corporate partners such as Coca-Cola Co. (KO:US) and Adidas AG (ADS), and hosting requirements that needed the Brazilian parliament to pass special legislation.
FIFA is “a state within a state” that “is going to come, install a circus without paying anything and take everything with it,” Romario, who played on Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winning team and is now a member of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, said in a YouTube video last weekend.
While FIFA and Brazil’s government have done a poor job in articulating the benefits of the World Cup, the accusations are misplaced, Valcke said.
“Most of the claims when it’s about FIFA I would say are wrong,” he said.
Direct staging costs are a fraction of the almost 30 billion reais ($13.7 billion) Brazil is spending on infrastructure works to host the monthlong tournament in 12 cities, Valcke said.
Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo said in an interview June 24 that the country wouldn’t hesitate to sign the agreements former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made in 2007 to secure the World Cup.
“If you asked Lula would he do it again I’m sure he would say yes,” Rebelo said. “And so would I.”
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