FRANCIS FUKUYAMA ADVANCED HIS THESIS of an end to history in an essay in 1989, before East Germans tore down the Berlin Wall with their bare hands. The USSR soufflé was still a couple of years away from folding in on itself, but for Fukuyama the runes did not need much deciphering. He declared the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism ... the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism.”
Whether or not Fukuyama was right about history, his theory holds true for football. The twentieth FIFA World Cup begins on 12 June in Brazil, the spiritual home of the beautiful game, and the only nation to have won the tournament five times. Sadly, not even Brazil, its team a shill for Nike since 1996, can present a viable systematic alternative to the unedifying corporate jamboree that now masquerades as the World Cup.
Not that FIFA cares much for romance or edification. In Soccer in Sun and Shadow, the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano noted with sardonic economy the cosiness between football’s governing body and Argentina’s military junta at the 1978 World Cup: “General Videla pinned a medal on Havelange”— João Havelange, FIFA’s president at the time— while “a few steps away, Argentina’s Auschwitz, the torture and extermination camp at the Navy School for Mechanics, was operating at full speed. A few miles beyond that, prisoners were being thrown alive from airplanes into the sea.” Havelange was not a squeamish man. By 1978 he had been FIFA president for four years, and turned the World Cup into a cash cow funded by such ethically untroubled sponsors as Coca Cola, Gillette and Seiko.