So I won’t be the first nor will I be the last to bemoan the super-commercialization of the World Cup but I was surprised that it has taken until this year’s competition for the global brands to buy their way on to the official poster, which was unveiled this week.
We have definitely come a long way from the origins of the tournament as a sort of Corinthian spirited contest and a way to build bridges between nations.
The release of the South African poster got me searching around for some of the other images have been used to advertise what would become the world’s biggest sporting spectacle.
The first World Cup, held in Uruguay in 1930 had a contemporary art-deco poster. It looks as if it were drawn up in high school art class and is none the worst for it. Maybe there is something of those Fillmore West posters from the 1960’s advertising quicksilver Messenger Service and the Grateful Dead. Or maybe a touch of tango from across the River Plate.
The image of a goalkeeper making a save in the top corner is worth noting as the defensive side of the game would not make an appearance in the artwork again until the 1950’s. Nowadays I can’t imagine image conscious FIFA countenancing the less glamourous aspect of the game over the attack. What kind of message would that be to send to the casual fans and new-comers?
Those of us who have loved the game for a very long time can appreciate a great save and a great defensive display but that’s not the image FIFA is intent on marketing to the untold millions of Asians and North Americans….customers, eh, excuse me “fans” FIFA is intent on reining into the “Football Family”? With all that money at stake FIFA won’t be taking any chances.
Of course, FIFA has only recently become conscious of it’s image.
Having spent most of the 20th century consorting much more comfortably with an assortment of military juntas and fascist dictators than with the democracies, FIFA now probably wouldn’t want us reminding them of their past associations. On the other hand how can you not look at the poster from the 1934 World Cup in fascist Italy, without conjuring up heady days under the Roman sun with Il Duce and his over-the-top displays? Mussolini was bent on using football for his own ends- principally to enhance the glory of his New Roman Empire- and he intimidated players, corrupted officials and threatened whomsoever got in his way. The poster is clean and powerful with the New Fascist Footballer, resplendent in the azzuri strip of Italy about to welly that big old leather ball into some poor “lesser” country’s net. The goal of a bright Fascist future beckons…..
In contrast, the poster from France ’38 seems more in keeping with the grim realities of the hungry thirties. Sepia tinted almost dirty, a skinny emaciated leg atop the ball and world seems to suggest that the poor and the oppressed would give the fascists a game. Only they didn’t and Mussolini’s team again took home the trophy- the shape of things to come.
Of course the coming of war in Europe and the isolation of South America meant that the competition would not resume until 1950. Brazil were the hosts and they unveiled this monstrosity – what is that – a robot boot? It is so tough and uncompromising, so at odds with the silky skills of Brazilian football, more suited to the leg-crunching game of Italy or England. Maybe it was prescient- Brasil lost the final to Uruguay in Rio, in what has ever after been referred to as the “Maracanazo”, the disaster in the Maracana. Maybe the Brazilians could have used some robot boots.
Over 200,000 people in the stadium watched Brazil lose and the Uruguayan players said when they scored the winner the silence in the stadium was almost total and very frightening.
(More to Follow)