In 2010 Gerardo Chapa and Alex Flick travelled to South Africa to make a documentary about the lives of ordinary people in the host nation. Their film, Calabash, premiered at the Moscow film festival. With all the controversy surrounding the corruption allegations at FIFA, Chapa decided to share his reflections on who the real victims are in this scandal:
The flurry of charges listed in the indictments made it difficult for New York District Attorney Kelly Currie to identify a clear victim. "I think the ultimate victim is soccer at large. It's the fans, It's the organizations", he stuttered when asked who would be the beneficiaries of the funds forfeited by the arrested FIFA officials. As with most crimes, particularly in the sports world, true fans and rubberneckers alike can be easily led astray by the news media’s spotlight on the culprit. OJ Simpson, Lance Armstrong, Aaron Hernandez - the pathology of the crime seems, almost by human instinct, endlessly more engrossing than its effects. But what about the average citizens of the countries that actually did host the World Cup under the pretence of rebranding and reconstructing?
When Alex and I set out for Johannesburg, we never intended to make a film about FIFA. We left that to the BBC’s and CNN’s of the world - they have the access and resources to bring you the types of allegations we saw with the Panorama documentary and those we’re seeing now in this 24-hour news storm.
The Machiavellian officials concocting the notion of the World Cup legacy, from their Swiss palace and enacting it in systematic fashion across the developing world, make Enron and Madoff look like purse snatchers. FBI agents, wire-wearing informants and cash-filled briefcases all amount to the perfect ingredients for a Martin Scorcesee film. But let not the audacity and complexity of the crimes distract us from the plight of the victims of this long-standing corruption, those whom have been robbed of a functioning economy behind the glimmer of the bright stadium lights and gilded trophy.
The context was well-known and documented, but the news media rarely delves into the lives of the individuals who are most affected by this institutional corruption - that’s our domain and that’s where Calabash is unique. We leave the world of numbing facts and move into the realm of truths, universal truths about justice, corruption and greed. Some stories do have a happy ending, but overall the film reveals the trickle-down effect of that corruption, the abuses it leads to.
The figures thrown around this case - $150 million in bribes, stacks of $10 million inside the briefcases - are all quite abstract to the average person. It’s a lot more tangible to see a man who’s brother is dying of AIDS charge a car battery for 10 rand so he and his family can watch the opening match of the World Cup, looking on as Sepp Blatter and Jacob Zuma wave to the world of football fans.
More broadly than any specific act of bribery, the moral dilemma of allocating public funds, a delicate nation’s welfare, towards infrastructure projects that line the pockets of these fat cats instead of sheltering the disenfranchised. Calabash begs the question of what one of those cash-filled briefcases would have done to repair this and many other communities across South Africa.