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At halftime FIFA is winning in Brazil

Midway through, FIFA can be pleased with how the 2014 World Cup is shaping up, says sports journalist Luis Aguilar.

Last updated: 27 Jun 2014 21:36
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As long as Brazil keeps winning, FIFA and its President, Blatter, will benefit, says sports journalist Luis Aguilar [AP]

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – With the tournament reaching its mid-point, the Brazil 2014 World Cup, with all its highs and lows, has already produced one certain winner: FIFA.

Football’s world governing body has had a rough ride in the lead-up to the tournament in Brazil, with a highly unpopular president wanting another term amid allegations of corruption and authoritarianism.  

But as many observers predicted, the criticism of FIFA lost much of its intensity as soon as the first ball was kicked. The high quality of football seen so far seems to have kept many commentators entranced who otherwise would not have passed up an opportunity to scold FIFA.

But what will remain of the euphoria after the final whistle of the 2014 World Cup is blown and FIFA has to face a decision about the 2022 World Cup that was awarded to Qatar in a highly controversial bidding process?

To reflect on what we’ve seen so far and what will come in the next few weeks, Al Jazeera speaks with Luis Aguilar, a Portuguese sports journalist who has written extensively on FIFA, most recently in his book Jogada Ilegal, or Illegal Play.

David Poort - What is your general opinion of the tournament so far?

Luis Aguilar - It's going really well, much better than expected. I think FIFA can be very happy with how the tournament is developing. It has mended some of the damage it has done to its own image, but they are lucky that the Brazilian team is doing well. We'll have to see if that continues against Chile on Saturday. As long as they keep winning, this tournament will be an even bigger success for FIFA. Also, the large protests that were promised have so far not materialised, which also helped for the overall feeling that it is going well.

DP - What comes next for FIFA after this World Cup?

Luis Aguilar's book Jogada Ilegal takes a critical look at the inner workings of FIFA [Al Jazeera]

LA - It will be interesting to see how long the enthusiasm remains after the whole circus moves on. Some host cities will be stuck with huge and expensive stadiums that don't even have local teams to play there. Brasilia has one of the most expensive World Cup stadium of them all but not a single first league team to fill it up. The Rolling Stones or Beyoncé will not go to Brasilia to fill these 70,000 seats. They would want to go to Rio or Sao Paulo.

DP - One of Brazil’s largest newspapers, Folha de Sao Paulo, writes that FIFA President Sepp Blatter has already seen the outcome of an investigation by the FIFA Ethics Committee into the bidding process that awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The newspaper claims Blatter wants to take the tournament away from Qatar. What is your take on that?

LA - I feel strongly that if there is proof that there was indeed corruption at play, it would be a good decision to take away the World Cup from Qatar. But you have to look at the politics behind all this.

There are elections coming up for the FIFA presidency in which Blatter will run against UEFA boss Michel Platini. As you might know, Platini supported the Qatari bid. So if Blatter has proof that the Qatari bid was won through corruption, it will put Platini in a fragile position. Blatter might now do his best to clean up FIFA's act but he cannot just wash his hands and come out clean from of this situation. The people who are accused in this scandal supported him in becoming FIFA president. They were his allies.

DP - Do you think there is a possibility that Qatar will lose the hosting rights for the 2022 World Cup?

LA - If it happens, it would be unprecedented, but I don't think it will come to that. Some of the work on the stadiums and infrastructure has already begun, so I think it will be really difficult to tell this country that they cannot host the World Cup. I think they should've come with this much sooner, because the allegations of corruption actually first surfaced even before the hosting elections in 2010. If there is proof of foul play, it will be morally correct to take it away from them, but morals and FIFA don't go well together. Qatar has a lot of money and there are huge commercial interests at play. You need a lot of courage to tell them: I'm sorry but these hosting rights were stolen. You cannot organise the World Cup.

DP - What do you think FIFA will learn from the Brazil World Cup?

LA - We'll have to see. It's not an organisation that easily changes. One of the main challenges of writing a book about FIFA was finding a good ending, because new major scandals seemed to emerge almost every other week. There were moments while I was writing when I thought, "Please guys, just stop for a least two or three weeks. Let me finish this book". Every time you think FIFA cannot make a bigger mess out of a situation, they come up with new ways to make it worse. You would think that after the corruption scandals of the past they would create a little more transparency. Qatar-gate was certainly not the first scandal within FIFA.

DP - When will FIFA's Ethics Committee present the outcome of the investigation into this bidding process?

LA - We don't know, but according to my sources it will not be made public until October. I certainly don't think they will announce the outcome of the investigation right after the Brazil World Cup. That would spoil a good moment for FIFA.

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Al Jazeera
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