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Dave Zirin on June 25, 2014 - 2:13 AM ET
This is not a pro–Luis Suárez column. This is not an article in defense of his taking a chomp out of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini during Uruguay’s 1-0 World Cup victory. This is not a piece that will make apologies for Mr. Suárez, who has some longstanding issues when it comes to getting peckish with opponents, so much so, it was reported that 167 people won a “prop bet” that he would bite someone during the World Cup.
Suárez should be suspended because what he did should not be a part of the sport and is, frankly, kind of gross. But for the sports media to climb their branded pulpits and say that Suárez demands suspension precisely because young, impressionable, wide-eyed youngsters the world over would emulate him and start adopting a particular kind of paleo diet on the pitch, is absurd.
Hopefully, it goes without saying that if your kid is biting people, they probably have issues that need addressing above and beyond just their affection for Luis Suárez. But all that aside, there is something so profoundly noxious about the thought of Boss Sepp Blatter and FIFA doing anything for anyone’s children, and being permitted to bathe themselves in that particular kind of sanctimonious light.
This is an organization that loves children when they are needed for commercials or to release “doves of peace” before an international audience. But when the cameras are away, its record is less dovish and more akin to vultures. FIFA has long cared for children only insofar as they show up to work on time to stitch the very balls kicked around the pitch. The organization, which is a stakeholder in soccer equipment produced the world over, has held a public opposition to child labor since 1997. Yet even its own commitment to “raising awareness of and attempting to curb child labour” has left a great deal to be desired.
In 2010, right before the World Cup in South Africa, the International Labor Rights Forum released a report titled “Missed the Goal for Workers: the Reality of Soccer Ball Stitchers.” The study outlined how child labor in sweat shop conditions was still a part of the FIFA production line in Pakistan, India, China and Thailand, concluding, “The existence of child labour and other labour abusive practices were found to varying degrees in all four FIFA licensed supply chains.”
Ineke Zeldenrust from the Clean Clothes Campaign said in the report, “As fans worldwide get excited about the games, the public expects FIFA and the soccer ball industry to finally live up to its promises.”
But at least FIFA gives lip service and even throws some money at organizations that aim to curb the use of child labor. It says and does nothing about the children of Brazil getting removed from their homes or having them occupied militarily in the name of World Cup security. These children are the invisible casualties of the World Cup, victimized by FIFA’s security and stadium demands as well as the Brazilian government’s efforts to use these mega-events as a way to displace impoverished communities that sit upon valuable land. In one destroyed favela I visited, the wreckage of a child’s toys was all that was identifiable amidst the rubble. As families are compelled to move with little time and preparation, it was stunning to see what was left behind. Then there are the favelas that are still standing but are occupied by the police and military for the duration of the World Cup. A 14-year-old boy suspected of robbery was reported to have been shot and killed by Brazil’s military police after being taken into custody.
The Suárez incident for me highlights less that a player has a biting problem than the fact that international soccer is run by vampires. It highlights the need for a body that oversees international soccer that doesn’t do symbolic acts “for the children,” while aiding and abetting the robbery of their childhoods. It showcases the need for new leadership and new principles to guide the beautiful game. Sepp Blatter and company may lower the boom on Luis Suárez’s biting, but it will only serve to highlight the fact that they are all bark. On issues that require real leadership, FIFA is actually part of the problem.