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A few nights ago I thought I was back in 1938, listening to Orson Welles broadcasting his famous radio drama ‘The War of the Worlds’. Just like Welles’ listeners, it took me a while to believe in what I was hearing, reading and watching on every mainstream or social media channel.
The news looked like another fake alien invasion on Earth. However, after following the media frenzy, I realised that everything was real: a handful of top-level FIFA officers had just been arrested in Switzerland, on the brink of FIFA’s meeting to elect its new president.
Amongst the ones arrested, there is Jose Maria Marin, the former president and currently deputy president of the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF).
The question that won’t go away is: who is Marin? How did an octogenarian man, with clear links to the military dictatorship that tortured and killed countless Brazilians, with connections to corrupted operations, hold such a powerful position?
Marin is a politician who has always been associated with the right wing. In 1971, he was elected as a state representative by the government party then – ARENA. That was one of the darkest periods of the military running in Brazil. A few years earlier, all political parties had been extinguished, and then replaced by only two parties: ARENA, the civil face of the militaries, and MDB, which congregated the government oppositionists who had not been arrested, tortured, killed or sent to overseas exile.
As a politician, Marin was very keen to show his loyalty to the military as far as they left him near the safe-deposit box. He was also close to an infamous and sadist torturer, the chief-commissioner Sergio Fleury. Marin, as a state representative, was always ready to jump on the state parliament stage to deliver hate speeches against ‘communists’ – and the authoritarian government just loved it.
Marin’s most infamous speech was in 1975 and led to the imprisonment and murder of Vladimir Herzog, a journalist who was in charge of the Sao Paulo state broadcaster, TV Cultura. Herzog had come back to Brazil that year, after fleeing the country a few years before with his wife and two young sons to work in London as a journalist for BBC. Then, in 1975 Marin delivered a speech on the state parliament which is seen as the green light for the military ‘secrecy police’ to arrest, torture and kill Herzog.
A week after Marin’s speech that denounced the state broadcaster for not supporting the government in its broadcasting as they should be, because they were infiltrated by ‘communists’, Herzog was forced to go to the headquarters of the secrecy police – where they inflicted him with such brutal torture that he did not resist and passed away.
Quickly, the military broadcasted a ‘suicidal’ version of his murder – which was clearly an enormous lie. Nobody has yet been arrested for his murder.
In 1978, Marin was appointed by the military as the deputy-governor of Sao Paulo state, and in 1982, because the governor of Sao Paulo left his position in order to run for president of the country, Marin was the state governor for 10 months. This position put him closer to the safe than ever before. Marin once said that, “it’s impossible to be Sao Paulo’s governor and not become rich”.
Marin has always been involved with sports, more precisely, football. He has been the president of the Sao Paulo Football Federation, one of the richest and most powerful sport bodies in Brazil, and he was the chief of the Brazilian team who played in the 1986 Mexico World Cup.
Then, when he was aiming for a calm retirement as deputy-president of the CBF president, Ricardo Teixeira, Marin won again in the power game. In 2012, Teixeira, who was in control of the Brazilian Football Federation for 23 years, was forced to resign from his position as he was facing a wave of corruption accusations internationally. Teixeira fled the country, and Marin, as the oldest deputy (aged 80), became not only the new CBF’s president, but also president of the 2014 World Cup local organising committee.
In his career as a sports person, Marin has plenty of episodes that demonstrate his character. Some of his biggest moments are hilarious. Like in 2012, when he gained the nickname of ‘Johnny Medallion’. As he presented the medals to the winners of the Under-21 Sao Paulo Cup, the most prestigious football tournament for that age group in Brazil, Marin was caught by the cameras pocketing a few medals that were to be handed to the young players, who were still waiting for their award.
Unfortunately, Marin’s life stories are far worse than this comic event. As CBF president as well as the World Cup ‘top-man’ he was not only receiving very high wages; he was in charge of all sponsorship and broadcasting deals, stadia constructions etc. Hence, he was very close to the safe-deposit box again, which appears to be his favourite work spot.
The embarrassment of the Brazilian president, Dilma Roussef, was visible at any World Cup ceremonies or matches where she had to be side by side with Marin. She had been tortured by the military, and he was a big soldier in the perpetrators’ side.
Vladimir Herzog’s oldest son, Ivo, has also tried to convince FIFA to demote Marin off his position in the 2014 Brazil World Cup. He has organised an online petition with thousands of signatures and delivered it to FIFA’s headquarters – but he did not get any answer from Sepp Blatter’s men.
Marin was also responsible for the camp where the Brazilian team was staying during the competition. As the CBF owns a luxury training facility in Teresopolis, a mountainous region two hours away from Rio de Janeiro, Marin ordered a millionaire renovation of these facilities just before the World Cup and determined that the Seleção would be staying there during the tournament.
For Australians to understand the location, it was like having to play a match in Darwin, then come back to Sydney airport and travel by bus to the Blue Mountains. The result of this determination was a huge amount of travelling added to the busy and stressful schedule of the players – who also had to deal with going in the same day from very high ambient temperatures to the really cold weather in the mountains.
However, he wanted the team at Teresopolis, so he could please the CBF sponsors, as well as TV Globo, the main broadcaster of the country which owned the TV rights for the World Cup and for the Seleção as well. Hence, TV Globo and its journalists could come at any time to the Teresopolis facilities, stopping training sessions to film and interview the players.
There were days, on the eve of important games, that there were more than 1000 people watching the Seleção’s practices: no privacy to train, no secrecy, and a very noisy environment. But Marin was very happy as sponsors were pleased to be close to the team, and TV Globo‘s journalists had exclusive time to talk to the players.
A few months ago, as his CBF ruling was finishing, Marin, in a very smart move, exchanged positions with his most loyal deputy, Marco Del Nero. Del Nero is currently the CBF president, and Marin went back to his deputy role – but kept his position at the 2016 Rio Olympics as the chairman of the FIFA competition – and still has a tremendous office in the luxurious CBF headquarters at Rio de Janeiro, a huge building in the heart of the city that he has named after… himself.
Fortunately, it appears he will not be able to proceed with this role. Despite Del Nero quickly coming to the media to alleviate Marin’s faults, saying that all corruption at CBF was done by their predecessor, Teixeira, Marin has finally been caught in Zurich and is facing extradition to the US, where he will be prosecuted for corruption. Later on, following FIFA’s guidelines, CBF temporarily dismissed Marin from their directive boards, and is wondering about removing his name from the building.
Brazilians are rejoicing with Marin’s imprisoning – or at least the Brazilians who can see the inseparable ties between lack of social democracy, authoritarian government and corruption.
At the end of the day, Orson Welles’ metaphor is appropriate for this case: two worlds have faced and battled each other during the 2014 Brazil World Cup: on one side, the businessmen and the politicians who took over the country to run their competition and make their dollars, and on the other side the people who had to pay for it.
In a very rare scenario, the ‘aliens’ are going to jail, giving hope to the people that things are slowly starting to change in the football world – should we be optimistic about football’s future?