BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) – Before heading to Commerzbank-Arena for the 2011 World Cup final, I attended a seminar led by a FIFA marketing executive. My "take away" from his presentation: If things in women's soccer are going to improve, it will not be by FIFA's initiative, but ours. Change is on us.
I don't think that was his intended lesson.
The presentation was staged in a conference room of the Westin Hotel in Frankfurt, a scene right out of the Bourne Identity. Sleek architecture, anonymous office furniture, a nicely groomed European man in a well-tailored suit.
But instead of talking to a room full of super-agents or government bureaucrats, this FIFA executive was introducing the organization's structure and raison d'être to a room full of Southern California middle and high school teachers.
This spring, the teachers and I participated in a seminar exploring the use of soccer in the classroom. They'd been touring Germany, learning more about European history (as well as the game itself) while attending World Cup matches.
Still, in spite of the fact that we were all in Germany for the World Cup, the presentation offered no information about the history and substance of FIFA's involvement in the women's game.
It was a strangely honest display of the organization's lack of interest in the whole topic.
One example: Our host casually mentioned that around 80 percent of FIFA's staff had never watched a women's game of any kind. He said this as if he thought we would find it amusing, as if somehow his willingness to confess this would win us over.
Then he issued some of the usual platitudes expressing surprise that women play decent football.
To be fair, this guy seemed out of touch with football culture generally. (He described the widely respected Bundesliga stand culture as "too dangerous" for an outing with his children.)
At one moment in his presentation, he suggested that the bad press which surrounds the men's World Cup serves to bring much needed attention to social issues - like the illegality of homosexuality in Qatar.
Jaws around the table dropped.
Surely he wasn't implying that Qatar was selected as a World Cup host country because FIFA wanted to force Qatar to decriminalize homosexuality?
I couldn't contain myself. What about rape or homophobic assault in South Africa? That is arguably one of the biggest crises faced by its population. The 2010 World Cup produced no awareness campaign about this issue, certainly not via the support and cooperation of FIFA.
Mally Simelane (C), mother of the killed former South African national football team striker Eudy Simelane, leaves the Delmas court in Mpumalanga on August 27, 2009 ahead of the trial of her daughter's murder.(AFP PHOTO/PABALLO THEKISO)
uiet the opposite. FIFA maintained a perfect silence about the gang rape and murder of former Banyana Banyana player Eudy Simelane.
"You have a point," he said in response to my quick recitation of the gruesome statistics regarding violence against women in South Africa. He seemed slightly ruffled, more by my bad manners than the point I was making.
I asked what FIFA's commitment to fighting homophobia discrimination could possibly be, given that the organization did nothing regarding the Nigerian FA's "purge" of lesbianism from its squad. He told me the press was misinformed, that the coach had denied all the allegations.
Of course she denied the allegations, I asserted, but she made direct statements declaring lesbianism to be an abomination ruining the game to multiple newspapers, including The New York Times 's Jere Longman.
"Hmm," he said.
He might as well have said "whatever." I was beginning to feel like Lisa Simpson.
And to be clear: To imagine a World Cup with no lesbian athletes is to imagine the tournament without its all-star squad and coaching staff.
The most surreal moment in this bizarre presentation was the moment when the teachers asked him about the FIFA headquarters building in Zurich. Seems like an innocent enough subject.
They'd had a tour, and quite a few were stunned to discover that the building featured a meditation room - and that it was made entirely out of Onyx.
In even the billion-dollar complex, the extravagance of this "feature" stood out.
"Does anyone ever use it," one teacher asked.
Our FIFA guide said that the only people he'd ever seen in the room were people touring the building.
"How come we weren't allowed to take pictures of it," asked another teacher.
Architect image of the Prayersroom inside FIFA's Zurich, Switzerland headquarters.
"You should have been allowed," he said, apologetically. The no-photos policy had recently been changed. Previously, he explained, FIFA didn't want people taking pictures and then going on about how much the building cost. So cameras were banned. That policy had been reversed. But then he explained that if tourists "abused" the current openness vis a vis pictures, they would have to go back to banning photography.
By "abuse" he meant, simply, asking questions about how FIFA spends its money. He actually said this was something FIFA wanted to avoid.
And when our host wasn't busy explaining policy reversals or revealing how little soccer FIFA staff consumed, he was minimizing public interest in women's football, showing no awareness of club or international scenes while portraying no awareness of the game's history.
We did learn some interesting things. For instance, FIFA bundles broadcasting rights for the men's World Cup with broadcast obligations regarding youth and women's tournaments.
We were also told that the Women's World Cup is a "break even" event. It is not, in other words, the financial loss that a lot of people assume it to be.
If anything, our Sunday in Frankfurt would hint at the money-maker a Women's World Cup could be.
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