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Soccer Smackdown: Russia and FIFA sandbag Brazil

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Concerned that global sports organizations are exerting excessive influence on the nation's internal politics Brazil's congress is enacting legislation that limits how much FIFA and the IOC can demand that Brazilian taxpayers cover costly changes in projects linked to the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the Olympics scheduled for 2016 in Rio.

The move follows sensitive government documents being put under official seal during the recent crisis that precipitated the resignation of president Dilma's powerful chief-of-cabinet, Antonio Palocci. One of the founders of the Workers Party, Palocci served former president Lula as finance minister and was seen by some as the architect of Brazil's successful economic policy. After resigning from that job in the wake of an earlier corruption scandal he continued on as a consultant during the period that Brazil was bidding for the World Cup and the Olympics.

With the latest Palocci affair threatening to damage Brazil's reputation in world financial markets former President Lula came out of retirement to help his protégé Dilma manage the issue and Palocci was given an opportunity to use prime time TV to clear his name. But trust issues remained and he subsequently resigned the job that is equivalent to premier ministre in France, exculpated by legal authorities from current allegations.

Brazil has been getting bashed in the global sports press for not making enough progress in constructing stadiums with the amenities FIFA likes to offer its fatcat supporters. But critics fail to acknowledge that these so called super stadiums will only be used for a handful of World Cup 2014 fixtures and after that will serve the needs of Brazil's futebol industry, where all games don't attract high dollar advertisers or spectators.

Speaking at the World Football Forum in Moscow last week, FIFA's perennial bad cop, secretary-general Jerome Valcke, slammed Brazil's political class for lack of transparency in World Cup preparations, particularly stadium, tourism and airport projects. And the BBC and a British parliamentary inquiry have weighed in with allegations of corruption against Brazilian Football Confederation president Ricardo Teixeira, who heads up the Brazil FIFA World Cup Organizing Committee.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister whose grandfather was a trusted chef to both Lenin and Stalin, helped cook up the controversy. As chairman of the supervisory board of the Moscow FIFA World Cup 2018 Organizing Committee, Putin played the good cop, giving bad cop Valcke a Moscow venue to throw Brazil under the bus.

Putin's presence cuts both ways. Russian capital has been invested in professional sports in South America for some time and the influence of the Kremlin leader could be helpful to international Russian capital in Brazil's pre-World Cup business environment. Ex-president Lula's favorite team, Corinthians, has benefited from investments from interests close to Putin and Russian oligarchy money in the past. And Corinthians are now building a new stadium in Sao Paulo that could be used for the opening venue for the 2014 World Cup. But Putin's good offices alone can't spiff up the image of a FIFA that has more members than the United Nations and has become a magnet for sports crime and corruption.

Faced with an epidemic of match fixing, bribery of regional federation officers, blood doping and racial quotas FIFA president Sepp Blatter is having trouble keeping his organization in line. Coca-Cola and Adidas, two of FIFA's major sponsors, have gone public with their grievances, telling the 77 year old Blatter that soccer's world governing body needs to clean up its act now.

To let critics know he got the message, the FIFA leader invited his friend Henry Kissinger to head up a solutions committee designed get the organization moving forward on the right track. While not agreeing to step in and formally head up Blatter's committee, Kissinger suggested that FIFA needed to "modernize."

The former U.S. Secretary of State was instrumental in modernizing the game during the 1970s when he was a consultant to the New York Cosmos, helping broaden the use of the sudden death shoot-out, adding fan excitement and reducing the number of matches ending in a tie.

One area FIFA of modernization that could help the game is the use of goal line cameras to put an end to controversies over questionable goals and hand balls. FIFA has been discussing the issue in committee for years but Blatter has steadfastly come down on the side of human error, refusing to allow technology to reverse bad calls. Doing so would be a financial nightmare for legal and illegal gambling organizations,

Valcke, who recently squirmed out of an investigation after suggesting that bribes for votes influenced the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, says that Brazil is more interested in winning the World Cup with a home field advantage than in mastering the organizational skills to run a successful global sports event. And while he cries foul, Putin's leadership is helping Russia produce a cadre of world class sports managers who understand how to direct traffic at the intersection of legal gambling and organized crime and bread and circuses government. Brazil continues to provide the game what it has always has offered, namely the export of its top talent and some coaching expertise. Brazilian stars are eager to play in Euopean leagues but one never finds top level Euro-stars like Christiano Ronaldo playing in the first division in Brazil or Argentina.

With FIFA football remaining the worlds most heavily-wagered sport, the unpleasantness hasn't hurt the gambling action. Ladbrokes currently lists Brazil as the 4-1 favorite to win the 2014 World Cup while William Hill tags England as the value bet at 16 to 1 to take it all.

In the land of the Samba, where everybody is ready to rumble over futebol, the soccer smackdown made the nation's top comedy show, Zorra Total. Palocci was satirized as a consultant for the new World Cup stadium being built in Sao Paulo, and, not surprisingly, Dilma and Lula were sketched as subway conductors fighting for the controls to a runaway train.

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