Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana Johannsen: Reflecting on Cup half full of itself


It's hard to talk about 'best ever' football tournament when dark forces of Fifa cast pall over each event.

Germany's Per Mertesacker and France's Laurent Koscielny leave the pitch arm in arm at the end of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match. Photo / AP
Germany's Per Mertesacker and France's Laurent Koscielny leave the pitch arm in arm at the end of the World Cup quarterfinal soccer match. Photo / AP

As the Fifa World Cup draws near its glorious finale, the calls of "best tournament ever" have been thrown around wildly.

A Google news search for "best World Cup ever?" returns over 20 million results as football scribes the world over attempt the rather futile task of comparing Brazil 2014 with previous events. But it is easy to forget among all the discussion over which countries allow their players to have sex during the World Cup, the endless jokes around the Luis Suarez shoulder chomp and, of course, the matches that have enthralled us up to the semifinals stage, the controversies surrounding the tournament and the game's administration.

It is the oft-cited deep conflict that lies in being a football fan: the beautiful game happens to be run by what satirist John Oliver describes as a "comically grotesque" organisation.

While much of the coverage since the tournament began all those early mornings ago has centred around what has happened on the pitch, there has been the odd reminder of the dark forces at play in the game.

Ironically, it is Fifa's attempts at being socially responsible that have provided the best illustration of the hypocrisy of the game's administrators. Through the power of the hashtag, Fifa has been doing its best to promote itself as a tolerant, socially conscious organisation with its #SayNoToRacism campaign. To help spread the message, Fifa enlisted some of the tournament's star players to compel fans to "say no to racism with a selfie". Fans around the world can participate by uploading images of themselves holding a sign that reads "#SayNoToRacism" on various social media platforms.

Instagram can filter out a lot of imperfections, I'm just not sure racism is one of them.

Even the whole "say no to racism" campaign seems to miss the point, as if ignorance is merely a choice and one can simply opt out.

This year players have been roped into reading anti-discrimination messages as part of Fifa's moves to eradicate racism and homophobia from the game, as demonstrated by their decision to award the next two World Cup hosting rights to countries with hostile anti-gay laws -- Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022).

The campaign seems particularly insincere when you consider Fifa's overlord, Sepp Blatter, has previously denied the existence of racism in football. He claimed in 2011 some players may use an "incorrect" word or gesture, but it is different in the context of a game. Blatter is, however, happy to acknowledge its existence when it suits him, accusing the media of racism following claims bribery played a role in the selection of Qatar to host the 2022 event. Questioning the legitimacy of hosting a World Cup in 50C temperatures in a country known for human rights violations amounts to racism in Blatter's book, hurling racist abuse at another player, not so much.

In the coming week we will see a brilliant tournament reach what is likely to be a thrilling conclusion and fans should rightly enjoy every moment. But let's hope the next generation will look back on the 2014 tournament and see it as shameful rather than a success. It may be wishful thinking to hope Fifa can stage a tournament free of corruption and human rights violations, but that really would be an event worth celebrating.

- NZ Herald

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Dana Johannsen is the NZ Herald's chief sports reporter

Dana has more than a decade's experience in sports journalism, joining the Herald in 2007 following stints with TVNZ and RadioSport. Over that time Dana has covered several major events including the 2011 Netball World Cup in Singapore, 2011 Rugby World Cup, 2012-13 Volvo Ocean Race, and the 34th America’s Cup in San Francisco. A multi-award winning journalist, Dana was named New Zealand Sports Journalist of the Year in 2012 after scooping both the news and feature categories at the TP McLean Awards. The previous year she picked up the prize for best news break. She was also an inaugural recipient of the Sir John Wells scholarship at the 2009 NZSJA awards. Dana also writes a weekly sports column for the NZ Herald.

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