The IOC and FIFA, the Twin Stars of the Global Sporting Plague
by Marc Perelman and Patrick Vassort
The places that are chosen to organise large sporting demonstrations make the mind boggle. In 2008 the Olympic Games were held in Beijing; in 2010, the football World Cup took place in South Africa, while this year’s Winter Olympics were held in Putin’s Russia (in Sochi) and the football World Cup will be staged in Brazil.
In 2016, the Olympics will take place in Rio, and the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar respectively. Despite the obviously different political régimes in each of these countries, all of them have to bear the brunt of an ‘Olympicisation’ (as Baron de Coubertin put it) of the world, within the wider framework of a generalised ‘sportification’, which always means a sharp loss of democracy.
Who could pretend that China has opened up to the world or democratised, after its 2008 Olympics? What did we see from the leaders of Brazil during the protest marches of June 2013, if not the face of repression?
Did not Jérôme Valcke, the general secretary of FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) himself express the view that ‘I will say something which is crazy, but less democracy is sometimes better for a World Cup’ and that ‘When you have a very strong head of state who can decide, as maybe Putin can do in 2018, that is easier for us organizers than a country such as Germany, where you have to negotiate at different levels’?
The 2018 situation is already real enough in 2014 with Sochi and Brazil, as FIFA and the IOC (International Olympic Committee) impose parallel economic and political agendas which tell us a lot about Olympic and sporting values. These institutions act like steam rollers, crushing and eliminating anything that looks like forms of resistance in the territories conquered by the calamity of the deeds (rather, the misdeeds) of total sport.
In choosing the host cities or countries, delegating their power by putting it in the hands of all the world’s Putins, the IOC and FIFA allow them to become the bearers of sporting and Olympic projects – heavy doses of opium, these – and above all to force everyone to accept the unacceptable: the control, surveillance and disciplining of populations; ecological devastation, such as the ruination of part of the Caucasus for the sake of developing alpine tourism, within what UNESCO described as the ‘one of the few large mountain ranges of Europe that has not experienced significant human impact. Its extensive undisturbed mountain forests, ranging from subtropical to alpine are unique in Europe’; help to certain private enterprises chosen by the authorities and close to the mafia; and the private appropriation of public space.
Within this context, FIFA and the IOC forcefully and unashamedly flaunt their ideological, political and economic ties and their troubling penchant for anti-democratic or soon-to-be undemocratic régimes, just as in the twilight years before World War II. They no longer hesitate in defending an enterprise that destroys mankind’s humanity, culture and environment, attacking the most fundamental rights and the most basic of freedoms.
They are widely honoured by sporting institutions, these Russian authorities: the same ones who round up immigrants; practice illegal arrest and incarcerations; lock up opposition members as psychiatric cases, as during the darkest years of Stalinism; uphold a policy of homophobia and allow extreme-right private militias to assault migrants in the street and smash the windows of their shops.
These same authorities who restrict press freedom and the independent journalists who sometimes even risk their lives reporting some among their odious practices. Since 2012, a law concerning so-called ‘foreign agents’ has allowed the control of NGOs and limited their activity in defence of fundamental rights.
Amidst all this the IOC, through the intermediary of Putin’s new friend Jean-Claude Killy [a famous 1960s French skier, now an IOC member], continues untroubled with its propaganda on the themes of peace and democratic advance. But it doesn’t want to hear about corruption, the building work handed out without any tendering process, the exploitation of workers on construction sites, the extradition of the oligarch Mikhail Khordokovsky to Germany, or the arrest of Evgeny Vitichko, sentenced to three years of forced labour because he wanted to publish a report on the disastrous ecological consequences of the Sochi Olympic Games.
The IOC, which has the rather surprising status of an international NGO without profit motives, is in fact a business whose tendering process masks the interests of its leaders and their decisive role in financial investment and the economic, social and cultural policies of the host countries.
The IOC is composed, among other people, of all kinds of CEOs and business leaders representing sectors like energy, public works and urbanism, media and communications, casinos, luxury brands (Jean-Claude Killy is a member of the Rolex board), real estate, banking and finance. The IOC commands an army of sportsmen, under its discipline. During the Sochi opening ceremony, its current leader Thomas Bach got to speak to world leaders, calling on them to ‘address your disagreements in a peaceful,direct political dialogue and not on the backs of the athletes’. Yet this lobby imposes itself – imposing on everyone – the steam roller of a globalised sporting policy. It is without any doubt the most important think tank on the planet, and as such it influences international relations, public policy and a number of capitalist projects to the highest degree. In this maelstrom, sporting structures and particularly the sportsmen participating in the festivities are not the innocent or naive victims of FIFA or the IOC, but the conscious, consenting agents of their misdeeds, their ideological spearheads, and in a sense their armed wing.
Translated by David Broder (you can read the original version of the article here)
Marc Perelman is a professor of aesthetics. He is the author, among others, of L’ère des stades. Génèse et structure d’un espace historique, Infolio (2010).
Patrick Vassort is a senior lecturer in sociology. He is the author, among others, of Footafric. Coupe du monde, capitalisme et néocolonialisme (in collaboration with Ronan David and Fabien Lebrun), Editions L’échappée (2010).