Eduardo Galeano & Dave Zirin (on FIFA)

In a frankly celebratory column at The Nation, its resident sports-and-social-justice scribe Dave Zirin wrote, in his usual blunt and acerbic style, of the arrests of the FIFA 14. The Federation Internationale de Football Association has long been accused of the most egregious forms of authoritarianism and corruption, and its slogan, “For the Good of the Game”, feels like satire in the wake of this sudden yet seemingly inevitable clampdown. (Having described FIFA’s leadership as “cartoonishly evil”, the satirist John Oliver nods his head vigourously.) Zirin is not waving pom-poms for the United States Justice Department — he’d be among those who also see a satiric tint in the name of that organization — but he has been calling for action on sporting corruption of many kinds for years. He wrote the book on Brazilian activism against global giga-events that you may have heard of.

Another writer to know better, who knew better than you and me about many things. Including the wearing of blue berets. (Photograph: Pablo Porciuncula/AFP/Getty Images)

Another writer to know better, who knew better than you and me about many things. Including the wearing of blue berets. (Photograph: Pablo Porciuncula/AFP/Getty Images)

Fittingly, Zirin invokes the late great Uruguayan journalist and histori-contrarian Eduardo Galeano. His Memory of Fire series of books on the colonization of South and Central America is a landmark of “people’s history”, and before that came the monumental Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent. For many, though, his football opus Soccer in Sun and Shadow was his greatest literary gift. It’s among the most important and eloquent books on any sport, ever. Early in Zirin’s column, he quotes Galeano, writing two decades ago on the “beautiful game”‘s ugly administration:

“There are visible and invisible dictators. The power structure of world football is monarchical. It’s the most secret kingdom in the world.”

Zirin’s whole column is worth reading, but in his conclusion, he quotes himself, writing in the New York Times about Brazil’s troublesome hosting of the 2014 World Cup:

“…A cloistered, corrupt society like FIFA cannot function in a WikiLeaks world. It is past time to abolish FIFA. It is like a gangrenous limb that requires amputation before the infection spreads and the beautiful game becomes decayed beyond all possible recognition. Soccer is worth saving. FIFA needs to take its ball and go home.”

 Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015) was a Uruguayan journalist and writer. He was best known for his non-fiction books and articles which remain a strong element in the conscience of his country, of his continent and of his favourite game. One Latin American eulogist called him “a maestro of the liberation of the people…[who has] always been oriented towards defending the sovereignty and dignity of our peoples.”

Dave Zirin is the first sportswriter in the 150-year history of the leftist American publication The Nation. Writing in the spirit of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, he writes a blog called “Edge of Sports” and has published several books on his own private sweet spot: the intersection of the sports he loves and the social (in)justice that he can’t and won’t get over.

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