The word is getting out:
Even if the 2010 World Cup is a ringing success artistically – and Sepp Blatter has made a brilliant career for himself by being smart enough to step back and let eh football speak for itself – the fact is that South Africa, a desperately poor country with overwhelming unemployment, crime, housing and communicable disease problems, is literally bankrupting itself so that FIFA can pocket billions.
But that's down the road.
Of more immediate concern is this bunch of cheerful friendly fellows:
These lovable rascals are members of an outfit called Movement for the Emancipation of Niger Delta, and they object to a few things, among them that an estimated 70% of Nigerias' oil income is simply stolen by corrupt officials (some of whose relatives frequently send you emails) a point which isn't particularly relevant to us except for one thing:
The FIFA U17 World Cup is set to kick off in Nigeria on Saturday, and among other huge, glaring problems, MEND says they're going to try and stop it. And FIFA is getting very nervous.
Of course this all goes back to Sepp Blatters' last election and what he perceives as his legacy.
As the trailer above mentions, Blatter is heavily invested in seeing football thrive in Africa, a worthy and noble goal, no question. But for him, it's more about votes, money and securing a Nobel Peace Prize than about doing the right thing.
The U20's just concluded their WC in Egypt, and it was a smash hit. Tightly controlled police states run really good festivals.
But next up in the Year of Africa leading up to SA is the 17's, and it's beginning to scare them. As recently as two weeks ago, FIFA was threatening to move the tournament entirely, and Mexico was poised to host it. But in the end, Blatter can no more move the 17's than he can move the WC.
Because unless there's an open civil war or a volcanic eruption or something which obviously makes moving the thing unarguable, his African support base will drop him like a bag of hammers.
Jack Warner took a blue ribbon delegation to Nigeria a few months ago for "site inspections" and even someone as paid off and in the bag as he is submitted a public report saying that the country simply "isn't ready". Venues aren't done. Transportation is a disaster. Practice fields don't exist or are nothing but mud pits. Communication nets continue to be hopelessly insufficient.
This is a theme he returned to just two weeks ago AT THE U20 TOURNAMENT:
"This will serve as a catalyst to help Nigeria to be ready, to improve itself, to look at the organization, to look at the quality of the facilities, and therefore I hope this will serve as a kind of stepping stone for Nigeria to be ready. Because as I speak to you, Nigeria is not yet fully ready, so I hope some of this will be passed on to Nigeria to force them to be ready in time."
And as recently as October 1, FIFA WAS REFUSING TO GIVE NIGERIA THE FINAL GO AHEAD
And then there's security.
When they talk about "security" issues with regard to South Africa 2010, they're referring to the difficulties involved with holding an event of that size in a country with 50 murders a day, 50,000 violent crimes a month and where over 60% of all women admit to having been raped, many of them before the age of six.
In that case though they figure the solution is to hire trainloads of guys, give them a little training and a gun and simply cordon off the hotels, entertainment districts and stadiums, from which the visitors, if they have any brains, won't stray.
However, the cheerful Charlies of MEND can't be dealt with as if they were teenagers with pocket knives, because they're grown men with rocket propelled grenades and the best automatic weapons that the world's arms merchants can supply at a price.
And in June, MEND warned FIFA to “rethink” going forward “ as the safety of international players and visitors "cannot be guaranteed at this time.”
I dunno, but that sounds a lot like a threat to me.
Nigeria has created SPECIAL SECURITY SQUADS consisting of riot and anti-terrorism officers, and will throw a security cordon around each team as it moves about the country.
Unfortunately, the government has said it cannot provide security for the families of team members, AND SO NO PARENTS WILL ACCOMPANY THE TEAM.
“We had a conference call with the people from the U.S. national team, and they were explaining the conditions. It's pretty bad, I guess. They said there will be plenty of security for the kids, and the rest of us would pretty much be on our own. So it was pretty clear to us that we shouldn't go for security reasons.
So basically, your kid makes the USA team at the U17 World Cup and you can't go sit in the stands and cheer for him because there's a chance you'll be kidnapped or shot.
And while the government has made some headway recently by offering some militant groups amnesty and jobs, groups like MEND continue to operate. And of course, with an American team involved, it's difficult not to feel like they might make a particularly attractive target, although the players themselves are trying not to focus on it:
(Starting goalkeeper) Earl Edwards says the security situation is particularly foreboding for the families of the American players.
"I think the issue with Nigeria is more something the parents and other people have focused on, and the coaching staff. But from the standpoint of the team I think all of us really are not worried about where we are going to play. We are all going to perform no matter where it is and we really have not let that get to us at all."
In the end though, all that FIFA can do, aside from moving the thing, is cross their fingers and pray. We all join them in that regard.
But somehow it just seems peculiar that just a week ago FIFA was getting ready to move a qualifier out of Honduras because a bunch of people were holding demonstrations and chanting slogans in the streets, but they're going ahead with sending teams of 16 year olds into a situation that everyone seems to admit is a whole lot more dangerous.