Every morning during the World Cup, FIFA does a press briefing. Almost no one attends. It’s generally a rundown of useless facts – including player birthdays – and subtle agit-prop.
On Thursday, ahead of the tournament’s opener, they launched a campaign called ‘The Handshake for Peace.’ It will enshrine an already common post-game motif – the exchange of handshakes between opponents.
While we listened to a bunch of suits congratulating each other on their vision, reports were rolling in that riot police outside the Arena Corinthians were violently confronting a small group of anti-World Cup protestors. There were several injuries, including one to a CNN producer.
Since no one else seemed bothered, I asked if anyone was taken by the dissonance of the two events. I directed the question at a representative of the Nobel Peace Center, Linda Netland. Instead, FIFA’s head of communications, Walter de Gregorio, jumped in.
“Probably, it’s the perfect moment. Of course, we didn’t coordinate with the protestors to choose exactly which way we should go. As long as there is protest without violence, of course you have to accept that. If this would mean that … as long as there are protests, as long as there is fighting, that you can’t announce this, that’s absurd and ridiculous.”
That wasn’t the question.
I asked again. Wasn’t this serving as a PR smokescreen to cover up street violence that had been anticipated for months?
Netland: “I can’t see it that way. It’s very sad to hear, what happened … I think we just have to continue to work together, inspire each other and put focus to get it all better.”
‘To get it all better’. By forcing football players to shake hands. When people are having their heads kicked in by the cops a short walk away. That seems a little unambitious for the Nobel Foundation.
De Gregorio wasn’t finished. He’d been eyeballing me for a while, clearly irritated. Moments later, he interrupted to offer some final “personal” thoughts.
“What I would like is, just for one second, what might be behind (meaning the police actions), whether it’s true or not, just support this. This is more than just about FIFA. This is more than just about football,” De Gregorio said. “Please don’t try always to seek the negative angle behind the story that maybe is good. I know it’s quite hard for your editors to accept that FIFA’s doing sometimes something good, but maybe you can convince them.”
Poor ol’ FIFA. Always getting picked on by the meanies in the press. Count me out of that effort.
The amount of sophistry at work here – ‘We’re being nice to you. Why can’t you be nice back?’ – reveals the slippery soul that animates this organization.
Whenever it suits FIFA – in their laudable anti-racism campaign or this new effort – they are political. As soon as politics bites them in the ass – as it is here in Brazil, because of their rapacious nature – they just want to talk about the game.
You can’t have it both ways. Yet they continue to try, and sulkily.
After that little tempest had been settled, we moved on to the really pressing business of the day. The next question: “Will Jennifer Lopez be arriving by helicopter?”