Directed by Craig Tanner
The March of the White Elephants debunks the conventional wisdom that staging a World Cup in compliance with the FIFA model delivers sustainable benefits to the population of the host country. It reveals the real legacy of the FIFA World Cup – state of the art stadiums that were built to stage a four-week tournament will stand idle for decades to come, soaking up funds needed for health, housing and education.
Honing in on the high-energy protests against the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, the story unfolds through the camera lens of Patrick Granja, a journalist on the streets of Rio. As he captures the volatile encounters between police and protestors, he provides passionate commentary about Brazil’s submission to FIFA’s demands, and the violent suppression of popular dissent.
Patrick’s role in the film extends beyond video-journalist and commentator, to casualty, as he too finds himself on the receiving end of police excesses – arrested (not for the first time), driven around Rio confined in the cage of a police vehicle, and fired upon with grenades, leaving him wounded and needing surgical attention.
The story moves between Patrick’s experiences, and the varied perspectives of a broad spectrum of Brazilians. President, Dilma Rousseff declares that Brazil has overcome its obstacles and that the pessimists have lost. Residents of a favela that is a ten-minute walk from the new stadium in Sao Paulo say they have no running water or electricity, cannot afford to go to the stadium, and object to being treated as disposable and without dignity.
Social commentators discuss how public funds have been squandered to build stadiums the country does not need, and legendary footballer Romario says that if he had the authority he would put Sepp Blatter in jail.
The film draws on interviews in South Africa in 2008 when it was predicted that stadiums being built for the 2010 World Cup in that country would become white elephants. By 2014 the new stadiums in South Africa were standing empty and, as one of the commentators observes, FIFA had moved on to pull the same trick somewhere else.
A year after the World Cup in Brazil, at least four new stadiums have, as predicted, fallen into disuse. The film looks ahead to how that pattern will repeat itself in Russia, the next host, and Qatar, where hundreds of workers have died building stadiums that will inevitably stand empty in the desert after that tournament is held in 2022.
The film draws to a close with coverage of the May 2015 arrests of FIFA officials charged with bribery affecting selection of World Cup hosts and election of the FIFA President. Sepp Blatter has promised to resign but remains in office.
The March of the White Elephants brings home that FIFA is a modern day parasite which enriches itself by exploiting love of the beautiful game around the globe. As it goes in search of new hosts to feed off, it leaves empty stadiums, social distress and corruption in its wake.