Our City is a weekly column devoted to the culture that surrounds Major League Soccer and Orlando City.
While doing research on corruption in FIFA, I came across the fantastic work of Guardian writer David Conn. While setting up the story of the massive corruption within soccer’s international governing body, Conn reminds the reader that the sport wasn’t founded as a multi-billion dollar industry. Conn’s narrative of corruption within FIFA, specifically the United State’s home federation CONCACAF, should make any fan of the game sick with concern.
Laced into these early chapters of The Fall of the House of FIFA: The Multimillion-Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer, are the philosophies of one of the founders of FIFA, its president from 1919-1942, and the man credited with creating the World Cup: Jules Rimet.
To summarize Conn’s description of Rimet, he was a deeply religious Christian who believed sport could foster goodwill between nations. Rimet characterized FIFA in his final years as its president as a: “A spiritual community to which we all adhere with one heart and one will.” Meanwhile, he described the sport he did so much to promote as a global game as: “A channel for imparting the finest human qualities. Listing disciple, moderation, and solidarity among its virtues.”
I’ve thought a lot about the words of Rimet since I first read them. Certainly, in the context of FIFA and modern soccer. The pragmatist in me understands the modern game is better understood as a “sports business.” We are a long way removed from Rimet’s game. Still, I’m a historian, and I always bend an ear when a voice from the past speaks to me.
Pondering Rimet’s vision of the game I love brought me to thinking about Major League Soccer, U.S. Soccer, and Orlando City. Like many of you, I’ve been caught up in commenting on each crisis (real or imagined) Orlando City has experienced this past season. I’ve written for days about the flaws in Major League Soccer and the domestic game in general. I joined the collective meltdown after the U.S. Men’s National Team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Self-reflectively, I’m not sure if my personal relationship with soccer was much of a “channel for imparting the finest human qualities.” In short, I’ve been so petty, I’ve forgotten to remind myself why I love the sport. Tying myself to the debate about big money transfers, global respectability, and last week’s poorly conceived plea for Orlando City to nonsensically throw money to alleviate my anxiety about the coming MLS season are far removed from Rimet’s ideals of disciple, moderation, and solidary.
That’s not to say my microaggressions and late-night Twitter rants aren’t an important part of being a supporter — just that, well, it feels like that’s all I’ve had to say lately. For a host of reasons I’m certain you are familiar with too, my purple Orlando City pint glass changed from half-full to half-empty without my ever taking a sip.
With the holidays upon us and a new year (read as new season) right around the corner, I’ve been contemplative. I’m still infinitely frustrated with modern soccer — from FIFA and the money-drenched European Leagues, to our successful-despite-themselves domestic leagues, and my beloved Orlando City, which did, in fact, make a little bit of transfer noise last week. Logically, I know I can’t change any of these organizations that are so deeply wound into my love of soccer. I can as a supporter, as the guy who writes this column once a week, as the historian who researches the history of the sport, remind myself of Rimet’s idealism.
Rimet spoke at the FIFA Congress in Rio de Janeiro before the World Cup in 1950. He said, “Loyalty to the spirit of the game, fairness to the adversary, is perhaps the most remarkable quality of football. Without it a match would be devoid of all meaning and return to the barbarous games of antiquity.” Rimet summarized his views by saying; “our aim must be to transfer these idealistic qualities of the game to our everyday life.”
So, as the year comes to a close, I’ve printed out Rimet’s idealistic words and placed them on my bathroom mirror. Just a small everyday reminder to live up to the ideals of the sport I love in 2018, even in the ever-so-complicated landscape of modern football.
Have a great holiday season, only 69 days until Orlando City opens its 2018 season! Anyone else have a soccer related New Year’s resolution?
*Just a quick note that some of this article summarizes parts of Chapter Three from David Conn’s The Fall of the House of FIFA: The Multimillion-Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer.