For as long as I can remember I have always loved football, particularly international football. In fact, my first football memory (at about six years old) is eagerly standing up when the head teacher asked for anyone who wishes to watch England play Tunisia at the 1998 World Cup to stand up - England won 2-0 with both goals coming at the end of each half. I love the World Cup, for me it's the best sporting spectacle on the planet, I love the passion, the excitement, the heartbreak, the emotion, the intensity, the tension and I love it despite the inevitable English disappointment. There is one problem, and it's a biggie, which is the World Cup is organised by FIFA who are the subject of United Passions.
United Passions follows FIFA from its creation in 1904 to the awarding of the 2010 World Cup to South Africa, the first African nation ever to host the World Cup. United Passions follows three FIFA presidents in FIFA's most important eras, first Jules Rimet (Gerard Depardieu) and the invention of the first World Cup in 1930, João Havelange (Sam Neill) and the current (yet ex) President Sepp Blatter (Tim Roth).
United Passions presents FIFA as the moral bastions in promoting racial and sexual harmony across the world. United Passions is a film where the executives are presented as heroes for bringing the beautiful game to the rest of the world. In the real world, however, FIFA is a vile organisation that forces countries into mountains of debt by making them build giant cathedrals which will be never used again (a football stadium in Brazil is now a bus depot, you can now literally park the bus) before pissing off with the money and leaving the host nation to pick up the pieces.
This propaganda barfest stinks of moral righteousness so much so that it is offensive that they lecture the British (who are seen as racist, ignorant, arrogant pantomime villains) on morals when they claim to be an all inclusive organisation yet vote to host the World Cup in two countries with very questionable human rights records. In fact by the time the World Cup stadiums have been built for the 2022 World Cup over 4000 migrant workers (mainly from Nepal and India) are predicted to have been killed whilst building the stadiums.
FIFA's inaction to Qatar's despicable treatment of migrant workers just makes their moral telling off of Britain to be rather insulting. That said, however, the reign of Englishman Stanley Rous was a particularly racist one and the film doesn't ignore it entirely (it doesn't ignore corruption either but it's a blink and you'll miss it type of discussion) but uses Stanley Rous' villainous depiction to present Blatter as moral leader in the crusade for good.
Currently FIFA is embroiled in the biggest scandal it's ever faced as it has now come to light that FIFA is most corrupt international sport governing body in the world. Allegations of fraud, embezzlement and corruption led to the arrest of several major figures in FIFA. Depending on how you look at it the timing of the release of this vanity fest in the US is either as well timed as a Titus Bramble last minute own goal or as well timed as a pin point Xavi pass. For sheer comic relief it's probably the latter.
Much of the corruption allegations centre around the awarding of 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Even when Qatar was announced as host back in 2010 there were raised eyebrows. Jokes were made at the expense of a clearly unsuitable host as people predicted the hosts for the following World Cups - 2026: Afghanistan, 2030: The Arctic, 2034: The Moon, 2038: 1970s Cambodia. Researching Qatar there can be no reason other than bribery that the tiny, gulf state was awarded the World Cup. A country where summer temperatures can exceed 45 degrees centigrade and the national team (and league) has no pedigree. Qatar was seen has a 'high risk' option because the country has to literally build entire cities to accommodate the influx of people who will be arriving from every corner of the globe.
I haven't even got started on the human rights issues and the homosexual laws in both Qatar and Russia that are of no concern to FIFA. In fact the heroic, and morally superior, leader depicted in United Passions said that gay people should 'refrain from sexual activities' if they wish to attend the World Cup in Qatar. He also said that to get people interested in women's soccer the women should wear shorter shorts, and despite the film's claim he is a champion of women's football he has no idea who Alex Morgan is.
Anyway, in the eyes of the FIFA ethics committee (yes, really), Qatar and Russia did no wrong. In fact, it was the English FA who were criticised the most but that's not the end of it. Michael Garcia, the man who led the investigation into the bidding process of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, claimed that the summary of his report was erroneous and resigned in protest. Qatar did no wrong even though the Qatar Football Association head paid a FIFA executive a large sum of money during the period the bidding process was in procession, but this was viewed as not being directly related to the World Cup bid. Yeah, OK. In addition, the summary noted that Russia provided "only a limited amount of documents available for review", as the computers lent to the Russian team had been destroyed, and several email accounts were unable to be accessed. Yeah, OK. Nothing fishy there.
Enough about the politics of the film, what about the quality of the filmmaking? Even if you pushed aside the blatant propaganda United Passions is a bad film. The pace is inconsistent, the time jumps random and sporadic, the dialogue is expository, hilariously ironic and cringe worthy (Jules Rimet is a 'visionary' apparently) and the performances are woeful (Sam Neill's accent in particular is closer to Irish than Brazilian). Worst of all how can you capture the love of game by following a group of boring men in suits?
For a non fans of the sport this film will tell you nothing about FIFA or the history of the game, you'll be left wondering why so much time was spent on one single football match (1950 World Cup final between Brazil and Uruguay), fans of the sport will understand the context of this match that is regarded as one of the most shocking in Brazilian football history. However, to tell the history of an 100 year old organisation in two hours is a difficult feat and one not achieved here. Want to watch a film about football? Watch Next Goal Wins.