Later this week, the 20th World Cup begins, and millions of people around the world can’t wait. But the comedian John Oliver offered a timely reminder that behind the spectacle is FIFA, an organization that he calls “comically grotesque,” and “cartoonishly evil,” a body that he argues is extraordinarily corrupt, values profit over people, and is more of a burden than a boost to host countries.
In his HBO news recap show “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver describes the World Cup as a perfect example of the “sausage principle”—that if you love something, you should never look closely at how it’s made:
Brazil, possibly the most soccer-obsessed country in the world, is seeing its citizens protest FIFA, and with good reason. Oliver cites news reports saying that the country spent more than $11 billion getting ready, and built a new $270-million stadium in Manaus, a city so remote that parts had to be shipped in through the Amazon, that will be used for just four games. There’s no team nearby that can come remotely close to filling the stadium afterwards, making it what Oliver calls “the world’s most expensive bird toilet” after this summer.
The country was pressured into selling beer at stadiums after banning it years ago due to an appalling rate of fan deaths, because Budweiser is a major FIFA sponsor. And the next World Cup will be in Qatar, possibly due to bribery, even though the country may be physically too hot in summer to play games outdoors. Some have predicted that thousands of migrant workers, who can’t leave the country without their employers permission and work in conditions that some have likened to slavery, are likely to die during construction.
Oliver also points out that the organization’s board room (visible 7 minutes and 30 seconds into the video) looks suspiciously like the war room in the Stanley Kubrick movie Dr. Strangelove.
At the end of the day, however, Oliver admits that he is hugely excited for the World Cup.
“It’s an organized religion and FIFA is its church,” Oliver says. “Just think about it. Its leader is infallible. It compels South American countries to spend money they don’t have building opulent cathedrals, and it may ultimately be responsible for the deaths of shocking numbers of people in the Middle East. But to millions of people like me, it is the guardian of the only thing in their lives that gives them meaning.”