An Award Ceremony to
Mask FIFA’s Horror Show
No offense to Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar, top contenders to this year’s Ballon d’Or award – and arguably three of the greatest footballers ever – but Monday’s ceremony in Zürich may not be all about rewarding the deserving and honoring the honorable.
Not that we should expect any mention of FIFA’s annus horribilis (and we’re not getting anywhere near that stinky pun either). After all, this is the time to pay homage to these players’ artistry, and whoever wins has proven their worth on the pitch.
It’s just that such artistry, talent, and exuberance, shown throughout an ever more demanding, year-round season, are in stark contrast to the staggering catalog of behind-closed-doors misdeeds FIFA officials have perpetrated on their account.
As of now, former president Sepp Blatter, and the ex-head of UEFA, its European arm, Michel Platini, continue fighting their 8-year ban from the sport, and a stretching number of officials, in many countries, face criminal charges.
It’s also emblematic that the corruption dragnet has caught both Platini, who’s all but squandered his past as a great player, and (more)
* Frozen in Time
* Trick or Truce?
the soccer federation president of the World Cup’s record 5-time holder, Brazil, one Marco Polo del Nero.
Both ascended to what used to be largely symbolic, supposedly unpaid positions, by the sheer power of influence and highly profitable, back-door deals, turning their mandates into a shameless commodity whose continuing trading boosted their still undisclosed personal wealth.
NEW MAGIC X OLD FOES
It’s been a strange, and regrettable year, to say the least. While the game of football has evolved to high levels of skill and showmanship rarely seen in such a consistent basis before, its off-the-field structure has remained depressingly stuck in a colonial past.
As a growing multinational enterprise, moving billions of dollars each year, it’s been driven by the same unrestrained greed and political manipulation that marked its origins, only in a much larger scale. And old, terrible habits continue to fester.
In fact, to many supporters, 2015, for one, has been downright despicable, with shameful episodes of racism and even displays of extreme nationalism by players and fans, perhaps reflecting on the pitch at last what was all along known and practiced outside it.
A FLAWED, RISING STAR
Neymar, for example, Barcelona’s Brazilian star who, like most of his compatriots, is racially mixed, has been victim of racist chanting that would blush KKK zealots. But along sympathy, he’s gathered a lot of flack from Brazil’s sport press for his response to it.
His reaction has been compared to that of Pelé, the game’s greatest player but also tone deft in race matters throughout his career. And who, just like Neymar did recently, while declaring, ‘I’m not black,’ has always refused to even acknowledge that there’s racism in Brazil, perhaps afraid of negative stereotyping.
Other allegations of corruption have also plagued Neymar, but as a player, he’s had a stellar year. Since moving to Spain, he’s been crucial to Barcelona’s regained world dominance, along Uruguayan Luiz Suarez and Argentine Lionel Messi.
HOW DID THEY GET HERE?
Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi have traded wins for the past seven years – current score: 3X4 -, but given the wonders the South-American trio has been performing lately, it wouldn’t be surprising if Neymar spoils the trend and carries home the trophy.
Which is the same reason that Suarez also has a shot this year. The ceremony will not only crown, by secret ballot, the world’s best male player, but also the top scorer, best coach, and the always understated best female player, among other categories.
Brazilian player extraordinaire Marta, who isn’t shortlisted this year, has won a record seven times, starting in 2007, when the last of her countrymen great strikers was nominated and won, Kaká. Bookmakers are favoring Messi to top the field again this time around.
A last note about this, and most recent, soccer awards: none of the contenders has won a World Cup, reflecting the quadrennial tournament’s diminishing importance today as a game’s quality yardstick. That also means that Pelé’s 3-time achievement will remain unchallenged to at least 2022.
Since none of the accused is expected to show up at the ceremony – nor they should – FIFA may have a hard time filling up the usually crowded official seats. Which is just as well. Optimists everywhere hope this may finally be the year international soccer cleans up its game.