In This Episode
Tommy and Rog discuss what has been a surreal tournament thus far, from FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s astoundingly tone-deaf first-person speech, to a crackdown on armbands, to which countries have had the courage to stand up against injustice.
[clip of Gianni Infantino]: Today. I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.
Tommy Vietor: One person has the courage to step forward, throw a punch back. Someone else follows like. It could get real ugly for Gianni Infantino real fast.
Roger Bennett: I feel like we’re in a Cold War stage of everything that’s about to go down, and I’ve got a feeling it’s about to escalate.
Tommy Vietor: Welcome back to World Corrupt. This is episode six. Rog, this thing’s happening Buddy.
Roger Bennett: Oh, I don’t know what this thing is, but is it ever happening [laughter] Thomas? It’s all bloody happening. I’ve said this on Men in Blazers as we podcast it daily. But as we tape this, we are currently on day four of the World Cup and yet I feel like Tom Hanks about an hour and a half into a Cast Away. But if only I look that good still.
Tommy Vietor: [laughs] Fear not, my friend. I am here to be your Wilson [laughter] on this very special episode of our Crooked Media and Men in Blazers mash-up.
Roger Bennett: A mash up that goes together like, well, for FIFA and corruption. Gianni Infantino and ill advised uses of the first person. An American victory over England. It’s coming.
Tommy Vietor: It’s coming. I hope, Rog you’ve never sounded more like Kenny Powers, [laughter] but before we dive in, if this is your first time listening to World Corrupt. Welcome. We are thrilled to have you, but we would love to advise you to go back to the beginning of our audio El Camino de Santiago [laughter] and make sure you listen to the first five episodes.
Roger Bennett: Can I say not just welcome, but we are bloody thrilled at the response to this thing, when you make a podcast, this is as curious and as bloody hard and as complicated. And I mean emotionally complicated for Tommy because he has to work with me, which is intrinsically, emotionally complicated. But it’s been amazing, your responses, your ideas, your thoughts, your suggestions, your challenges. And if you do go back to the first five episodes, we do try and unpack exactly what a FIFA if is and how that thing the FIFA go so utterly bloody corrupt.
Tommy Vietor: Ooh, so corrupt. We also spoke with some amazing, brave, brilliant human rights activists and experts about the situation faced by migrant workers in Qatar, a reported 6500 of whom have died since this tournament was awarded back in 2010.
Roger Bennett: We talk with footballers about the courage it takes to speak out against injustice, to use their platforms for a force of good when the system of which you’re playing as we’ll discuss all that can tell you is, you just shut up and dribble. Yep.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, that’s right. And ultimately, we want to figure out what we could do with us, you know, as fans, as listeners, as sports fanatics can do to ensure that a global sporting event like this never winds up in a place like Qatar again. But Rog, you mentioned it up top and I just wanted to go back to it briefly. [laughter] What are you been up to, man? This is like your your presidential election for me, your Super Bowl every day, four times a day. Like. Have you slept yet?
Roger Bennett: Yeah. I didn’t realize how much of a human wreck I am. The World Cup is like it’s four games a day, which is unusual for this World Cup and it doesn’t tell get up at 4 a.m. every morning. Just kidding. I didn’t know how much of a record was till your face popped up for the first time in a couple of weeks [laughter] since I’ve seen you on this on this kind of Zoom thing. And I almost started crying. It was just so overly emotional [laugh] to see your face. A World Cup is, what you said, I do imagine it’s probably like a month away from an election year when the when the schedule so compressed. And this is the thing that’s weird about this is there’s the football, which is just relentless, but there’s also the geopolitics of it all. You have to watch both through a split screen, which means covering it is light like a speaker and out of control, autocratically tinged spigot. And we are we’re playing show. We’re going across America doing live shows from sea to shining sea. We’re recording so many bloody podcasts, too many podcasts. Probably we do in a live game Twitches, this Friday England USA—
Tommy Vietor: Nice.
Roger Bennett: With Matthew McConaughey and I’m going to lie it feels, physically and mentally like I feel like God surely we’ve reached the semifinals. But my wife left this morning. She went away with the kids for Thanksgiving. The the worst part for me was when the dog sitter came to pick up my dog. That really broke me. And I now Tommy, I now feel like I’m just. I’m just married to the World Cup.
Tommy Vietor: [laugh] Sorry, buddy. Well, listen, I think, like, as a fan, as a listener, we’re all grateful to you and the Men in Blazers team for bringing this whole thing home for us. I feel like you’re midwifing the World Cup to the nation right now and we love you for it—
Roger Bennett: And sleep, I keep telling ourseves, sleep is for January Tommy—
Tommy Vietor: Yeah.
Roger Bennett: And dare I say, I’m so happy to see you both because it’s you Tommy, a force of joy in my life. But so much has happened since we did speak, some of which we hoped would happen, a lot of which we could never have predicted. There’s been moments, I should say of true poetic wonder, and there’s been thumping based out of human darkness, relentless [both speaking] and it’s happening Tommy. This World Cup in Qatar, that this surreal, soulless World Cup it is happening. And there are, I should say, before we get into this, there have been fleeting moments of global connectivity that do make your heart sing and make me even someone who who does believe he’s dead inside does make me briefly, fleetingly feel alive. But we need to break down so much of the complex crap that has occurred and ability to be with you in tape there. So let’s do it.
Tommy Vietor: All right, buddy. Well, so one thing like you said earlier, I’m really proud of is that people are really paying attention and they care about the human rights considerations that we’re talking about in this podcast that we’ve been doing has traveled very far. I literally did an Australian radio interview an hour ago. [laughter] I did not think that was going to happen in this context. But also, Rog, apparently we got under the Qatari government skin and on their radar screen, which I consider a small measure of success. But I don’t love it. It’s a touch unnerving.
Roger Bennett: Yeah, I’ve rarely got such a joyous text from you Tommy. Qatar clapped back at us. [laughter] You’re kind of in your element.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, I am. I’m kind of a shit talker, though. [laughter] These guys play, these guys play for keeps. So the back story just real quick is Roger and I wrote this op ed for CNN about all the reasons why the 2022 World Cup is a mess. I won’t summarize that here. You guys listened to the series. Qatar’s ambassador to the United States penned a response to us. In it, he said things like the World Cup is a chance to, quote, “alleviate misconceptions and prejudice not only against Qatar, but about Arab and Muslim culture as a whole.” End quote. He said, there have been numerous misleading public campaigns attempting to disparage this World Cup. The op ed generally bristled at critics said the Qatar was facing criticism that was unfair, that singled them out in ways that other host countries have not been singled out. Basically, Rog it was defensive. It was. What about ism? And it suggested that criticism of Qatar critics of Qatar, like us, are essentially biased or racist towards Arab people or Muslims. And so, listen, my response to that is I’m sick of these snowflake liberal autocrats, buddy, you know, unbelievable. Talk about like ducking the whole issue.
Roger Bennett: Yeah, it was a it was a it was an op ed kind of just it just fizzled. There’s a there’s a national anthem, which I love in the World Cup, the Japanese national anthem. It’s just so harmonious and soothing, but it also just seems to stop in the middle out of nowhere. And that op ed just kind of began and then ended without actually making the point. And I got a text from Tommy telling me, buddy, maybe you should start two factor authenticating all your accounts, which is which is exactly [laugh] what I needed to have in my life Tommy.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, timing is not my my strong suit. There was a British investigation, however, that found that hackers targeted critics of the World Cup and had been doing so since 2019. The over a hundred targets, Michel Platini included.
Roger Bennett: I can imagine someone somewhere is flicking through my photographs of my recent holiday at the Jersey Shore as we speak and God bless them. You’re welcome to them.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, you’re gonna find a lot of dog photos on my phone [laughter] one of the more surprising stories, news stories from the past few weeks though Rog is that disgraced former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has found religion and now says [laughter] that giving Qatar the World Cup was a mistake. I guess the road to Damascus goes through Doha Rog. Too little, too late, my man. However, I did not notice that Sepp included. He didn’t mention human rights is part of the problem. Here’s the quote I saw about Qatar. Quote, “It’s too small of a country. Football in the World Cup are too big for it.” Blatter goes on to say that it should have gone Russia 2018, the United States 2022 to bring together historic rivals from the Cold War. Boy Sepp, if only there had been a way to know how big or small Qatar was before the ceremony. Very impressive stuff here. What. What did you make of this confessional?
Roger Bennett: Yeah, I’ve just found my mind when you said Sepp Blatter has found religion I was like, what religion must that actually be and is it Satanism? I mean, the Sepp Blatter moment, what did I feel about? I probably feel about that the same as you do when you watch like Bill Barr or John Kelly have a belated moment of feels like a sudden burst of lucidity about the past couple of years, but you can’t help but scream out loud. And Sepp Blatter gave this interview to a Swiss newspaper. Why did this come so many years too late? And you kind of feel it must just be about legacy burnishing or an attempt to inject quotes into the public record for reasons of of historical legacy. But you also kind of like why now? And as you say, not 12 years ago, Sepp Blatter, when you had agency more than agency, when you had the leadership, when you had responsibility. And look, I did find this detail fascinating when he also took pains to say that he wanted to validate the story about that meeting at the French presidential palace a week before the December 2010 vote, where the Qatari crown prince, now the Emir, sat with Michel Platini, the the French representative to FIFA and the French President Sarkozy, and they discussed changing the French vote and in a completely separate, unconnected conversation, talked about Qatar buying fighter jets from the French worth $14.6 billion. And you got a sense of exactly how this was done, not just with bribery in manila envelopes filled with cash, but bribery at an epic geo political scale. But it was painful. I mean, why do men and is always men? Why do they years later give these suddenly candid, complete U-turn interviews in Europe?
Tommy Vietor: It did seem like Sepp. Deep down is mostly angry that the new FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, doesn’t call him or isn’t nice to him. It did seem like there was just a lot of bitterness there and he was excited to rain on his parade right before the big event.
Roger Bennett: Yeah, I mean, that was exactly what the the hack job was was timed to day. And it was hard for me to hear that interview with the same lips that said shortly after Qatar was [?] Sepp Blatter was a man who very quickly gave a press conference where he said Qatar will be the host and nothing about this award can be revoked. He was that man. And you can’t you don’t get a do over on this kind of thing. The Qatar World Cup is happening. And as you said, this went out right before the opening ceremony. And Tommy, that opening ceremony, it was like a fever dream. It took place I should note, only after celebrity after celebrity announced that they’d refused to take part from Shakira to Dua Lipa to Rod Stewart. And when I read that list, I was like, oh my God. That opening ceremony production team, they cast a wide net there Tommy—
Tommy Vietor: [laughter] They really did.
Roger Bennett: Well. Shakira won’t do it. Who’s next on the list? Stewart, is Rod Stewart. Can we exhume Rod Stewart? But that all of them are like, no, not doing this. And by the way, this ceremony, which remember. 100 days before kick off Qatar, actually moved the opening ceremony by 24 hours so the Emir could actually have some fireworks and—
Tommy Vietor: So crazy.
Roger Bennett: This thing was going to happen. And so we wondered we tuned in aghast and were like, who would perform, who would be the main attraction and Thomas, who did perform? It was Freeman, [laughter] it was Morgan Bloody Freeman. They got the guy who played Nelson Mandela.
Tommy Vietor: [laugh] When we had a seven minute running joke about Morgan Freeman and I thought to myself, this might be overkill. And then all of a sudden, nope, delivered for us here.
Roger Bennett: Yeah, well, this is a current affairs show Tommy. We know what we’re doing here. We got our finger on the pulse of geopolitical culture. Morgan Freeman walked out in Qatar before the eyes of the world, told the crowd, we gather here as one big tribe. The earth is the tent we all live in. I mean. Chaos is a ladder, I don’t know. But he delivered it in the way only Morgan Freeman can. And as you know, dear listeners, from episode two of World Corrupt. Morgan Freeman was the face of the failed United States bid to host this very 2022 World Cup. You remember, he was the man who dropped his script in the middle of his presentation for the United States, completely lost this place. And here’s my question for you Thomas, was was hiring him, unleashing the, Freeman unleash the gimp, was hiring him, was it just next level geopolitical trolling by Qatar? Not only did we win the bid you wanted, but we took Freeman from your cold, dead hands too—
Tommy Vietor: Oh man.
Roger Bennett: —Red from Shawshank Redemption works for us now.
Tommy Vietor: That is brilliant and conniving and evil, and I almost have to respect it. I had not thought of that. That’s really good. Good for them. Good for the Emir.
Roger Bennett: Yeah, I did think about that as a possibility and I realized that if there was a possibility, Bill Clinton probably would have walked out for the opening ceremony too. [laughter]
Tommy Vietor: I mean, he was too busy. Getting crypto in the Bahamas or doing whatever he’s been doing.
Roger Bennett: God bless him. Hear me out here. What I realized, if I was a betting man. I think they may have played the long, long game on this one. Thomas, maybe. Maybe Freeman was always on their payroll, and that’s why he dropped the script in the first place.
Tommy Vietor: Double Agent? Goddamn Freeman, you crafty bas— I mean, he’s an actor. Of course he could pull it off.
Roger Bennett: Wheels amid wheels. And I got to say, we should discuss this for one moment, the opening ceremony was even more eery because Fox. The broadcaster, the rights holder have made the the slightly controversial decision, which they announced before the tournament, to focus purely on the issues on the field of play. They announced that they wouldn’t address anything other than football because well, FOX and really it turns out they are sponsored by Qatar Airways, who actually paid for the FOX set to be in Doha instead of Los Angeles. So it’s like compared to NBC, when they covered the Beijing Olympics, their outside analyst was a Yale professor of East Asian Studies. And Fox’s expert was Mr. Q, a social influencer who happens to be the founder of the website, I love Qatar. [laughter]
Tommy Vietor: No. [laughter]
Roger Bennett: And it’s, yes, Tommy, Tommy, this is this is this is funny. But it’s it’s really it’s really complicated.
Tommy Vietor: It’s dark.
Roger Bennett: We’re watching like we’re watching Lalas, Alexi Lalas go do a lot of dune buggying in the desert telling everyone they should come to Qatar. We have a lot of Qatar, tourist board infomercials. I mean, this when it when they did this opening ceremony, finished it, the Fox host shouted. Oh, if that wasn’t an opening ceremony, that will be remembered for generations that was amazing. This is this is complicated Tommy. That veers towards how North Korea covers events, isn’t it?
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, that’s that’s troubling. I mean, listen, I remember the 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, which was extraordinary and I think was something that was seen all around the world and rewatched and watched again because of the intricacy and how impressive it was to pull it off. But that was because they practiced really hard, not because they paid off an influencer to come do the commentary. I mean, that’s that’s a little that’s a black eye for our friends over at Fox. I hate to say it.
Roger Bennett: Maybe we’ll get Mr. Q on episode seven of World Corrupt, always welcome. But you compare that, by the way, to the BBC who broadcast the opening day’s proceedings in Britain, and they did it like this. They decided not to show the actual opening ceremony. Instead they had their broadcaster Gary Lineker, who think of him as kind of like English, Tony Romo, former footballing legend, turned quasi national institution, and he greeted the nation.
[clip of Gary Lineker]: Ever since FIFA chose Qatar back in 2010, the smallest nation to have hosted football’s greatest competition has faced some big questions from accusations of corruption in the bidding process to the treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums where many lost their lives. Homosexuality is illegal here. Women’s rights and freedom of expression are in the spotlight. Also, the decision six years ago to switch the World Cup from summer to winter. Against that backdrop, there’s a tournament to be played, one that will be watched and enjoyed around the world. Stick to football, say FIFA. Well, we will for a couple of minutes at least.
Roger Bennett: And then later, panel discussion of them, I actually posted the introduction on Twitter. They’ve now got a couple of million views and Tommy, that, when I heard it, when I saw it, when I watched that, I was like, oh, my God, that that’s how this World Cup should be contextualized.
Tommy Vietor: I mean, it was a sober, concise, to the point summary of all the challenges with this World Cup. They didn’t hide. They didn’t gloss over it with happy talk and silly, you know, banal chitchat. They got right into it. And, you know, credit to the BBC.
Roger Bennett: This is an opening ceremony that will be remembered for generations. Another aspect to the opening day, surely Infantino was everywhere Tommy.
Tommy Vietor: Man, that guy is everywhere and he’s always acting awful before we get into his many antics. And there’s there’s too many chapters of the Infantino story here—
Roger Bennett: Many, many, yeah.
Tommy Vietor: Can you give listeners just a quick 101 about who Gianni Infantino is?
Roger Bennett: You talking about the current president of FIFA—
Tommy Vietor: Indeed.
Roger Bennett: —the gentleman deep seated Sepp Blatter back in 2016, another Swiss gent, what are the odds? He looks like he came to FIFA, said, essentially, if you’ve not seen who he is, just shut your eyes and imagine the character that has run Specter in seven Bond films over the past two decades.
Tommy Vietor: Got it.
Roger Bennett: He is bald. He emanates a sort of just greasy banality of evil. He’s toothy, he just needs a cat in the lap and and the head back cackle opportunity and [?] and he’s actually moved his family over to Qatar. This is something Sepp Blatter blurted out in the interview—
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, what was that?
Roger Bennett: Why has he moved his family to Qatar? We don’t know. His kids are enrolled in Qatari schools and even Blatter, when even Blatter says this is bloody weird and not normal. That’s kind of like that is in, that’s a, Ivan the Terrible being like Vlad the Impaler he was bad. [laughter] And in the run up to the tournament your man Gianni Infantino he had the chutzpah. I think that’s the Swiss word—
Tommy Vietor: Mm hmm.
Roger Bennett: —to send a letter to all of the players, all of the athletes coming to the World Cup in which he said, we know football doesn’t live in a vacuum we’re equally aware there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature all around the world. But please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists, i.e. stick to football. Which was really a stunning moment. I’d say not well received from the players I’ve spoken to, but this is an organization listeners, FIFA, which has spent much of the last 20 years boasting how football can change the world. If you just just pause the podcast, Google FIFA football change world, and you will just get hilarious. Just I mean, essentially you’d think it was Nelson Mandela. FIFA because FIFA has thought it’s Nelson Mandela. And. And then he followed this up almost immediately by going to sit that I can’t even understand this. I was so excited to speak to you, someone who will understand this. He then said that with the G20 and demanded a ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, so I agree with your take on the letter. It seemed to lay out his cowardice in black and white and then piss off everyone who received it [laughter] and piss off all the human rights groups. So I’m not sure that was a big win for Gianni.
Roger Bennett: That may have been it. That may have been Gianni’s aim. Let’s be—
Tommy Vietor: Maybe it was yeah.
Roger Bennett: All the things you’ve, you’ve just suddenly made sense to me of this thing for the first time.
Tommy Vietor: Found a motive.
Roger Bennett: But why would the G20 have that bloke address them in the first place?
Tommy Vietor: Yes. So Gianni Infantino goes to the G20, which which is a meeting of the world’s largest economies. They gather together, they work on major issues. You know, this year I think the focus was Ukraine. And while there, Gianni Infantino, he addressed these world leaders and he made this impassioned plea for a cease fire between Russia and Ukraine during the World Cup. And here’s a quote to your point earlier, Rog. He said, quote, “Football is a force for good. We are not [laughter] naive to believe that football can solve the world’s problems. We know that our main focus as a sports organization is and should be sports. But because football unites the world, this particular FIFA World Cup, with 5 billion people watching, it could be a trigger for a positive gesture for a sign or a message of hope,” end quote. Rog, he’s so close to getting it. He’s so close to getting it. Why? Why does Gianni get to go to the G20 and talk about politics and the players can’t wear an armband?
Roger Bennett: Well, I think maybe I have to defend Gianni. I’m not sure if this is the right day. I think he went on the Tuesday and Tuesday is the day of the week when football can be about change. [laughter] The way he wrote the letter he wrote the letter on the Thursday in defense of him. But why would the G20 have him? Like this is a national geopolitical operation. And why they let the football guy in who has no interest in change or any of this stuff was befuddling, also befuddling, if we’re going to be candid. Infantino became very close with Vladimir Putin during the 2008 World Cup, which was hosted across Russia.
Tommy Vietor: Yes, he did.
Roger Bennett: He received the Medal of Freedom from Vladimir Putin after boasting the football had showed a face of Russia to the world. That was really rather wonderful. And even with everything that has occurred over the past year of the most sordid and grotesque nature, he has refused and and the repeat demands from the media to return that Medal of Freedom. So the whole thing was contorted and dark to the World Cup Champ Cup from G20. Opening ceremony, Gianni Infantino, Tommy, sitting between the Emir of Qatar. And, you know, he sat on his left hand side.
Tommy Vietor: Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. What a good time.
Roger Bennett: What are the odds?
Tommy Vietor: Yeah. And the other very low.
Roger Bennett: I’m not so good at lip reading, but I’m pretty sure. Infantino had MBS turned to him at one point and say, oh my God, this is Morgan Freeman’s worst performance since Evan Almighty. [laughter] But when you see that image, what do you see?
Tommy Vietor: I mean, I see two brutal, corrupt autocrats making an Infantino sandwich. And it’s worth pointing out that, you know, we can dig into this more later, but the Qataris and the Saudis have not gotten along historically. We talked about this in an earlier episode, but the Qatari the Saudi government actually led essentially a diplomatic boycott of Qatar for several years—
Roger Bennett: A blockade?
Tommy Vietor: —that only ended 21. A blockade. They they literally remember Qatar as a tiny little peninsula, the size of Connecticut that hangs off of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis closed the only land border into the place. So it was that level of it was that level of aggression. And then all of a sudden they’re thick as thieves surrounding make it an Infantino sandwich. It was a very, very strange thing. I think a lot of people’s eyebrows perked up in the sort of the foreign policy nerd world. And let me tell you, they got some eyebrows.
Roger Bennett: You just said this word. We have to go back to the Infantino sandwich. But then Gianni, on the opening day of the World Cup, I mean, we thought that was the worst seeing him there, between those two, proceeded to give a 57 minute speech. I’m so excited to speak to you as someone that used to work in political columns. I can only describe this as a layman who knows nothing about how the world works as a violent explosion of verbal diarrhea.
[clip of Gianni Infantino]: Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled today I feel a migrant worker.
Roger Bennett: Tommy, you understand speech writing for global leaders. His speech today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker. I mean all said by the way, in front of a stunned audience of [?] a master class of what about ism. A black belt in what about ism. Unhinged to me, the average layman, but Tommy you understand what was really going on. Tell us, what was this?
Tommy Vietor: Rog, it reminded me of the scene in the film Billy Madison, where he says at no point [laughter] in this incoherent, rambling speech was Gianni close to anything resembling a rational thought. And we are all dumber for having listened to it. I mean, as you said today, I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African. I feel like gay, you’re none of those things, buddy. You have no idea how those people feel. My takeaway from this whole thing, Rog, and this is the only way I can make sense of this 57 minute rant, which credit to everyone in the media, by the way, for calling it what it was. The reaction was universal and brutal. My take away from that speech was Gianni Infantino’s goal is to show to his trillionaire Gulf Arab sponsors. He’ll go to the mattresses and he will stay there and he will battle for them. That’s the only rational explanation I can think of.
Roger Bennett: Yeah. And there’s one detail. I mean, the Billy Madison thing I loved, it’s taken me to a happy place. But to get back to the darkest of human places. Let’s get back to. Let’s get. Let’s get back to staring into the abyss together. Thomas. There was a rationale here. This was not. This was not an insane rambling. It’s been written about as if it was that weird moment when a global leader who sat with G20 global leaders tried to reveal that empathetic side from his formative victimhood as a pre-bald ginger, with freckles and could try to parallel to the suffering of workers who tolled to the point of death in 120 degree heat to build his tournament for World Cup readiness. And the reality is there is a rationale here, and that rationale is a number and it’s $7.5 billion. That’s the number. That’s a number that FIFA are projecting to glean to harvest off this event. So when you saw that, was any part of you like this is a gentleman who is yeah, love you think we’re going to give to the mattresses? We’re gonna get the matches. We’re going to stand up. We’re going to draw fire from our house Qatar. Who’s freaking out a little bit with the scrutiny, with the criticism, with the income and and people were comparing this to the Fyre festival to Ja Rule would organize a better World Cup. I mean probably that Ja Rule stuff hurts I mean the other stuff, sticks and stones will break my bones. But Ja Rule would really hurt me.
Tommy Vietor: Ja Rule, yeah. [laughter]
Roger Bennett: You’re making $7.5 billion. Was he just speaking to an audience of one there, essentially the Emir of Qatar?
Tommy Vietor: I think he was and also, I think to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. And we can we can dig into that more later. But I also I saw a man, Rog, who has who thinks he is unstoppable.
Roger Bennett: Amnesty International immediately criticized Infantino, dismissing human rights criticisms, treat demands for equality as part of a culture war, which is really his effort. And I watched it. I was like, this is it’s funny to watch him. It’s deeply sad to watch him. Ultimately, right now, this speech reminded us FIFA is there to serve the needs of Qatar to make money for itself, lots of money for its leaders.
Tommy Vietor: What are you going to do? Gianni Infantino sees his role with impunity here. He’s going to he’s going to hire Jared Fogle to sell the Gianni sandwich next. [laughter] So, okay. Armbands, Rog, he’s the subway guy he’s nice. [laughter]
Roger Bennett: That’s funny you mention that because in my head when we’re doing that segment, I kept thinking of Jared Fogle, but even I managed to suck the Jared Fogle cover back in. You went there.
Tommy Vietor: Listen, I live there. [music swells]
Roger Bennett: Tommy, is it time for us to pivot into arm bands?
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, I do think, like, there’s no World Corrupt episode that’s complete without a [laughter] armband discussion of sartorial section.
Roger Bennett: But the way, it was a name that when we were trying to work out what to call it, I originally wanted to call the podcast Pod Save Football, which is actually true. Ultimately, this is what we’re discussing. Please save the soul of the game. Tommy wanted to call it Today In Armbands.
Tommy Vietor: [laughter] Armbands Today is actually what I wanted to, no— So I think as we discussed in a previous episode, Rog eight European national teams had planned on having their captains wear these one love armbands during the matches. They had rainbows on them. They were symbolizing diversity and inclusion. It was kind of like a catch all feel good protest message. At least that was the plan until FIFA got involved and they threatened the teams with an immediate yellow card [laughter] if these players were these armbands. So the response again was was they were condemned for this act. The secretary of state, Tony Blinken, he’s a friend of mine who was visiting Qatar. He was there for the USA match. He had a bunch of meetings with Qatari officials. He was asked about this move. He actually condemned FIFA. He said no one on a football pitch should be forced to choose between supporting these values and rooting for their team. But it worked. Rog, FIFA bullied these European teams out of wearing these armbands. He’s kind of, let’s be honest, rather innocuous armbands. My question for you is, one, do you think FIFA really would have gone through with yellow carding these guys into can you explain to the newbies out there why getting a yellow card like the first second of a game would be such a big deal?
Roger Bennett: Yeah. By the way, hearing you explain it Tommy, you realize how insane this is? How did World War Three daddy? Oh, it started with, like, a tiny strip of polyester. And the battle of—
Tommy Vietor: It makes you realize how weak FIFA is. Like, you can’t handle that much like a strip of bicep criticism. You can’t deal with that. Come on.
Roger Bennett: Bicep criticism. God, that’s an amazing concept. I’m not sure if I, as I’m looking at my own, do I even have biceps at this fight in the World Cup, or am I that wasted away that.Look, it’s not about me. It is about this. It’s about armbands. It’s about the important things in life. And again, cast your mind back where we talked about England, my nation of birth. I ride with Team America now. But England had talked at great length for months about how deeply they were researching the issues around this World Cup. They told the journalist Miguel Delaney, the English FA, that they wanted to do more than just the t shirt in terms of protest, and they ended up doing something quite less than the t shirt this strip of, the captains all wear this tiny armband to say captain on their arm. They were going to have an eight European teams ultimately signed on to this, that they would have their captain’s armband be colored in pride colors and contain the pretty inoffensive slogan OneLove, which, when I read about it, I thought, well, that’s a gesture. That’s a gesture.
Tommy Vietor: Right. [laugh]
Roger Bennett: Yeah. More than anything, it’s like as if they had to create a meeting. How do we tick the box of doing something? Not enough to be really offensive or effective? I mean, who could be against OneLove Tommy in life.
Tommy Vietor: It’s a Bob Marley lyric. It’s fine. Come on.
Roger Bennett: Yeah. I mean, one love. No, sorry. We’ve got to respect the people who think there’s two loves [laughter] or maybe three loves. So let’s think about, let’s think about Hugh Hefner’s feelings—
Tommy Vietor: Its a tennis match now—
Roger Bennett: Yeah I don’t know. I like the way you’re going more than the way I was going. But the reality is this was this was a kind of nothing that’s become a massive, massive something because they petitioned FIFA, any outfit you wear, any strip, anything has to be sent to FIFA. They have to sign off on it. They sent this in September. FIFA didn’t respond for months until the night before England were due to first take the field when they announced that if the captain wears the arm band on the field, he will get a major yellow card. A caution. Now, I don’t want to get too into the football mumbo jumbo, too into the weeds, but if you get two yellow cards in the game, which is quite easy, you will be sent off the field, you’ll be dismissed, and your team will have ten players, which eventually can affect the whole World Cup campaign, but as an individual, if you get a second one, even in the next game, this is World Cup mumbo jumbo. And I apologize listeners.
Tommy Vietor: I love it.
Roger Bennett: Then you will be suspended. You will have to sit on the bench. You will not be able to take the field for the third game. In fact, any time in the first four games two yellow cards, you’ll be suspended. And the captains, you have to remember often the best players—
Tommy Vietor: Right, right.
Roger Bennett: —they don’t want to miss a game. So initially Tommy, initially they backed down. England crumbled, Netherlands crumbled. A FIFA charged in, this is an amazing detail which I don’t want the history to forget. They announced all the captains on all the teams. Will now wear official armbands, which are all about insane slogans, gesturing at change. And they want their captains to wear slogans that involve and that, crap you not Tommy, share the meal is one that they came up with. [laughter] You share the meal.
Tommy Vietor: It’s another sandwich joke. Are you. Are you serious?
Roger Bennett: I dont, maybe it is. [laughter] Maybe it’s about. Maybe it’s about an an early adopter stage in marketing the Infantino sandwhich. One of them is football unites the world who can be against that. Um, and a third one is this one is particularly Orwellian. Oh, bring the moves. That’s what they came up with.
Tommy Vietor: What.
Roger Bennett: They clearly had a creative meeting. I don’t know if they just had the interns do these or this was maybe this is what MBS, Infantino and the Emir were talking about during the first game. Bring the moves. Who can be against bringing the moves in life Tommy.
Tommy Vietor: Bring the moves. When on earth does that mean or is a dance competition? What are we talking about?
Roger Bennett: I don’t know. But whatever they did, they’re trying to turn loaves of bread into a million Infantino sandwiches. [laughter] And so England wilted, the Netherlands wilted, but today Tommy, the Germans, the Germans, they took the field. And I’ve got to say, the Germans, their football culture in the modern period, they’ve long had a reputation for being outspoken, stiff necked in the most wonderful way. Couple of players they have, as he predicted this ahead of the tournament. Leon Goretzka, a remarkable human being who has taken time. An elite footballer plays for German champions Bayern Munich, taking plenty of time to speak out against the rise of fascism in Germany, racism in football, anti-Nazi. He’s just an amazing human being. They decided that they would take the field today. They did not wear the armband. Why would they take the armband? They couldn’t take the armband. By the way, any autocrat listening about protest in the nation, clearly all you need to do is wave a yellow card that it’s general direction and you can stifle dissent. But Germany took the field and for their pre-game photo, which is a ritual, just a boring old ritual of football, they all lent it. They did their formation to banks of of human beings facing a camera filled with fear at the game, that which is to come. And instead each of the German players put their hands Tommy across their mouths. To show they were being silenced by FIFA and that the very second they did, the German national team issued a statement over Twitter saying, denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position and that that is where we are. That was taken. That was a statement which has been perceived as saying these European teams are now they’ve had they first recoiled, but they can actually up the stakes. And I was disgusted. I will say I’m not English, I’m American. But the English team to back down was so bloody, craven Tommy. They do have leverage. I mean, they could have all walked on with the armband, right, and said, okay, Qatar kick is out the tournament.
Tommy Vietor: I do think, though, what we’re seeing time after time after time is examples of the organizations involved trying to silence players, silence teams, and in so doing—
Roger Bennett: Silence fans.
Tommy Vietor: Silence fans, and in so doing, raising more awareness about the underlying problems than they would have if they just let these guys wear the armbands. Same as the Qatari ambassador to the U.S. writing his little op ed in response to us idiots. Rog, I got ten times more requests to go on TV and talk about our op ed after they responded to it than I did before. It’s like when you’re an autocrat, when you say everyone doing what you say, when you control the media, you’re not always good at kind of the more deft touch elements of winning a PR campaign.
Roger Bennett: I mean, that is so true. I mean, you do create internal fear. You create a moment where Roger is scrambling to do the two factor authentication. [laughter] And I will just say, if anyone’s listening from an autocratic government, I think I’ve done about 30% of my accounts at this point. You just don’t know which they are. That’s all I’ve got for you.
Tommy Vietor: His password is Blazer’s man.
Roger Bennett: [laughter] My passowrd is not that, it’s F U FIFA [laughter] 123. But the um, this is going on against a backdrop of insanity. And it is it is a it’s a battle of symbols in this moment. Tommy. The, Qatar security every day banning fans from taking any rainbow anything. There’s a war over the rainbow. You know, the Welsh fans have the whole World Cup journey, this wonderful nation that have stood have that have qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1958. We have Matthew Rhys from the Americans come on one of our live shows, and he talked about how he doesn’t care whether they win or lose. They just want to show the world that Wales exists and is not England.
Tommy Vietor: [laughter] I call it America’s Portland. It’s like America’s Oregon, right?
Roger Bennett: Yeah. Yes.
Tommy Vietor: Wales for Britain.
Roger Bennett: Thats amazing. I love that. [laughter] He’s like, he’s like we we just want to show the world the Wales is separate to England in the 800 years of oppression that we’ve had from the English they can. Yeah. We want to put up our finger it they they’re joyous, they’re wonderful. It’s an amazing story that they’ve had to get into the World Cup. And this evening every second their fans have for years worn this bucket hat in the in the colors of the Welsh flag with a tiny bit of rainbow involved. All those hats from the women in particular were taken by an overzealous security. [both speaking] We’ll walk into the stadium with a tiny rainbow on their shirt was— by the way we had a great tweet from a fan trying to get him with a Men in Blazers scarf that I’d even forgotten we’d released five years ago. That has the slogan on it, America. We took out Sepp Blatter. Now we’re coming for you. [laughter] And security is like security. You’ve got me in a corner of the stadium, they’re banning it. And I you know, FIFA, by the way, have not issued a statement. They won’t answer journalists questions about what they think about security taken away. This is hilarious, but it’s not hilarious about rainbow items. This is the battle.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah.
Roger Bennett: German Minister, Nancy Faeser, was at the game today watching Germany play. She sat by Infantino. Infantino probably not going to make a Nancy Faeser sandwich I’d imagine.
Tommy Vietor: Nope.
Roger Bennett: She took off her jacket. She’s a government minister she cannot be yellow carded. She took off her jacket and she was wearing the OneLove armband Tommy.
Tommy Vietor: Good for her.
Roger Bennett: Yeah, amazing and Gianni Infantino just spent the next hour staring at his phone as if he was too busy typing away to create another bonkers speech to notice it. And all I can say is sports is always political. We all agree that you must be agreeing if you’re listening to this. This World Cup is the single most political thing. I have ever witnessed and England play again on Friday against the United States. It’ll be fascinating to see what they do. They’ve taken a lot of crap and I hope they take a lot more from the English public who’ve made it clear that by just wilting, by pretending to gesture about freedom, about LGBTQ rights, and then just wilting because of a yellow card, that it makes it seem like LGBTQ rights are not worth fighting for. And that that is a bummer. By the way. Tiny detail. Again, sorry to go so deep, dear listeners, but a weird and wonderful thing that happened this morning. The Danish FA president, we love Scandos on this show.
Tommy Vietor: We do.
Roger Bennett: The Scandinavians are a real pathfinder. We do, don’t we. Why are they so great pathfinders?
Tommy Vietor: They’re just great.
Roger Bennett: Scandinavia. God bless you old listeners. And by the way, we have a ton of listeners in Scandinavia. The Danish FA president said this morning in a press conference that Denmark was, quote, “Considering leaving FIFA.” They were trying to put a block together with Nordic or other European football associations. They didn’t want to leave alone. Very quickly, the Danish Federation put out an official statement walking this back, but it seemed like a very political move, a threat a little, you know, this is where we can, do you want to go here? Where there’s smoke or in this case, [speaks Danish] there is fire. And I watched that. I was like, Tommy, you know, politics that was either like a hint at leverage, real leverage or there’s something cooking there.
Tommy Vietor: I yeah, I liked it. I mean, the hardest thing in politics is getting someone to jump first, you know what I mean? Like, there’s strength in numbers, but we let’s listen. I’ll go to my kind of well of knowledge because that’s all I got. Like the 2016 Republican primary, I remember when Trump would just kick the crap out of all his opponents, and none of them had the guts to stand up to him. Look what happens. But, you know, if one person has the courage to step forward, throw a punch back, someone else follows. Like it could get real ugly for Gianni Infantino real fast. And if I were him, I might lie in bed at night and think to myself, why do I look unbelievably constipated and uncomfortable next to the German interior minister? But I am like thick as thieves with Mohammed bin Salman. The, the Saudi crown prince who ordered the execution of a journalist as recently as 2018. This is a man who is completely out of control. He’s been compared to Saddam Hussein by people who know him like, hey, Gianni, do some soul searching, bro.
Roger Bennett: Yeah, you know, I listened to you say that, and I need to defend Gianni here because Tommy. I, look at you. You’re young, you know, good looking, successful bloke. You were never a ginger with freckles [laughter] who was bullied a lot by the Swiss kids. You don’t know what it’s like. You do not know what it’s like. [laughter]
Roger Bennett: The true fixture, the true remarkable moment of the tournament was when Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia came back from a goal down against powerhouse actually tournament favorites Argentina, who were on a 36 game unbeaten streak and beat them two one. This is like listeners. If you don’t know about football like me, I didn’t know anything about football, even though it’s like a 16 seed in March Madness, knocking off a number one. Think of a UMBC Retrievers clipping Virginia or watching the game. I was like, God, I got to speak to Tommy because it was incredible to see the Emir of Qatar looking at the game and wrapping a Saudi flag around his neck as if it was a scarf. Tommy, Tommy, can you explain this to me? Because that was conscious. That was not a football moment. That was not a man getting lost in 90 minutes of transcendent poetry. This was a man saying, I know what I’m doing. I know that the world’s eyes are on me. I know that the region’s eyes are on me. I was just in an Infantino sandwich, and now I’m going to communicate this, what was being said.
Tommy Vietor: You know, Rog, I mean, I do think that Saudi Arabia is looming large over this entire World Cup, and part of it is their bid for the 2030 World Cup. And get into that in a second. Part of it is this, that bizarre moment when the Emir of Qatar wrap the Saudi flag around his neck, seemingly a signal that, you know, all the bad feelings are now over and we’re friends again. But I do think that, you know, the role of the Saudis in this tournament going forward will probably say more and render a more definitive verdict on the future of sports washing than anything that really has to do with Qatar. Sometimes when I start to talk about the Saudis, people will say to me, like, Tommy, you worked for Barack Obama. He met with the Saudis. The United States has had a relationship with the Saudis for years. The U.S. sold them tons of weapons during the Obama administration. That is all true. And there is some rank hypocrisy and what I’m saying. But what I want people to understand is that the current crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, the the the bread in the Infantino sandwich, he’s scary. And he is different than past leaders. Like, again, I’ve mentioned Mohammed bin Salman ordering the execution of Jamal Khashoggi back in 2018 a couple of times. I’ll spare you all the gruesome details, but it’s as bad as you think and worse. But you know, MBS, is what he’s called for short came to power in a brutal family power struggle. He locked up and tortured his own relatives. The Economist reported Rog that he once sprayed the ceiling with bullets during an argument with his own mother. Imagine you’re fighting with your mom and you pull your AK and you start to rip and bullets into the ceiling that seems a touch off. He launched this war in Yemen that has created a humanitarian catastrophe. He sided with Russia by reducing oil production to keep prices high in the midst of the Ukraine war. So that list just goes on and on. And, you know, as listeners to this podcast know, like FIFA is an organization with a bit of a corruption problem. And in my opinion, MBS is a corruption dealer. He is willing and eager to try and buy off powerful people. He just cut a $2 billion check to Jared Kushner recently. He’s steering money into Trump’s hands by hosting these live golf tournaments at his clubs. They signed a licensing deal with Trump to buy some, you know, do some resort in Oman. And now we’re seeing Gianni Infantino there sitting with MBS, sitting with the Emir, palling around with members of the G20. And I just feel like the Saudis have some momentum, which brings us to this very weird story, Rog, in the athletic about Lionel Messi, the one true goat, as I’ve learned, and his role with the Saudi government. Can you help us? What the hell happened there, man?
Roger Bennett: So Lionel Messi is the single greatest player, in my estimation, save that for another podcast, a footballing podcast. A Men in Blazers. He and Ronaldo. It’s like the LeBron and Michael Jordan of the modern game. I am definitely team Messi, he is a remarkable little man. He looks like he’s wandered out of Supercuts, [laughter] but when he plays football, he runs for the ball as if it’s stuffed inside his boot and no one can get it off him. It’s his fifth World Cup. He’s playing for Argentina. He’s desperate to win a World Cup. Never done it. You really in the eyes of the world, not for me, but in the eyes that we need to have won a World Cup to be considered truly great. He’s meant to go for it here. His team crapped the bed against Saudi Arabia and the English journalist Barney Ronay tweeted during the game, consolation for Messi, a great day for his second job as Saudi tourism ambassador. And yes, this is the thing. Lionel Messi a footballer, but he has signed on to become an ambassador for the Saudi tourist board. It’s been used thus far mostly to brand build. He’s visited his estate on boats in scenic locations. He said how much he loves it there, how he can’t wait to come back. And the Saudis are now reported to be about to make a bid to host the 2030 World Cup, his joint bid with Greece and Egypt. But it gets deliciously complicated here because Lionel Messi, Argentinean goat. Argentina is said to be poised to bid, what, for the 2030 World Cup, along with Uruguay, Chile, Paraguay. And so the notion of Argentina making a bid to host the World Cup. And Lionel Messi, the greatest modern player of the 21st century, being the face of Saudi legitimacy. Tommy, it’s just dystopian.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, it really is. I mean, like, you know, his people will argue, oh, he’s not actually advocating for the Saudi 2030 bid. He’s just talking about this like he’s a tourism sponsor. He’s advocating on behalf of the Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 Initiative, which basically is this the brainchild of Mohammed bin Salman. It’s his effort to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil and gas into something more sustainable and diversified as the world reduces its dependance on fossil fuels. But there’s really no disassociating the two. And it is just bizarre. Like I think I read that Lionel Messi made $120 million last year. I just don’t know why you need the, you know, the extra £25 million for this Saudi deal. Apparently, Ronaldo turned down a much less generous offer, [laughter] five million dollars.
Roger Bennett: It’s remarkable. Maybe Lionel Messi really just also is a one issue voter and his issue is arm bands. He’s just really agitated [both speaking] by the future of arm bands. Yeah arm bands, I just got to draw the line. Arm bands. And he’s not alone. You know, David Beckham, this is this is really quite something. A ten year deal, $15 million a year. It’s been reported over ten years to be Qatar’s brand ambassador, a role which right now and you say it’s just it’s just that David Beckham’s role seems to be largely just involve him wandering around the spice market and declaring it’s one of the best spice markets I’ve been to. [laughter] But, English fans for whom he’s an icon, a legend, he is England incarnate. They’re seething, the English media, they are shocked. And they keep saying, David, do you regret being made to be the face of Qatar? And he doesn’t answer. And it’s hard to watch because David Beckham, has long stood for a carefully cultivated brand of good. He really has. David Beckham has long been a gay icon. There’s an English gay comedian amazing guy Joe Lycett.
Tommy Vietor: So funny.
Roger Bennett: Google him. Yeah. I mean, how would you describe him, you’ve seen it’s a video which has gone viral over that.
Tommy Vietor: I think he threatened to throw £10,000 into a woodchipper unless David Beckham renounced his Qatari brand ambassadorship and Beckham did the right thing. He pledged to donate that money to LGBT charities.
Roger Bennett: Yeah, he did put $10,000 into the woodchipper. He’s very clear to. To say £10,000. He’s very clear to say that the money went in. But don’t worry, I didn’t woodchip £10,000. I gave it to LGBTQ charities. Yeah, the incredible line I can send this is heartfelt. I consider you to be a gay icon. You’re the first Premier League footballer to do shoots with gay magazines like Attitude to speak openly about your gay fans. This is the great line. And you married a Spice Girl, which is the gayest thing a human can date. [laughter] So these are these are the complexities. The the, you know, the icon appropriation and the motivations of humanity, which we don’t always understand.
Tommy Vietor: So, listen of I do think we’ve we’ve probably exhausted the the arm band topic. We’ve done some—
Roger Bennett: Heavy arm band talk.
Tommy Vietor: We had the arm band talk. There have been some pretty inspiring good stories. So we’ve maybe got a couple of those before we end.
Roger Bennett: There have been there have been there have been there’s been there’s been moments, real moments of of wonder. There’s been real moments of real courage, to be candid. Yeah. I mean, we should say Iran qualified for this World Cup. It’s been incredibly complicated both for the protesters and for the players. But that’s something that’s inspired you, right?
Tommy Vietor: Yeah. I mean, listen, there was this incredibly emotional and courageous moment where the Iranian national team refused to sing the, their national anthem, the Iranian national anthem in solidarity with protesters back home. And to the folks who don’t know what’s going on in Iran. Basically since September, when a young Iranian woman named Mahsa Amini was brutally murdered by Iran’s so-called morality police. There have been massive protests in the streets and the morality police they’re, they’re nothing more than thugs who arrests and abuse Iranian citizens, usually women for like not wearing a headscarf, but they will ruthlessly beat them in some instances, have killed a number of people for not wearing like a headscarf or something. But the regime has cracked down brutally. They have responded with violence and brutality. Hundreds have been killed. Thousands have been arrested. But these Iranian players, they wanted to show solidarity so they didn’t sing along with the anthem. They also didn’t celebrate goals as a show of solidarity and like, again, Rog. This is where it gets so complicated because I was reading a bunch of the coverage of this and there were some Iranians back home who are inspired by what they did. There were some who are angry at them, at the players for protesting at all. There were some who didn’t think they went far enough. So, again, it’s just like, how much pressure can we put on these players to do the right thing? When Gianni Infantino and these global leaders are showing no leadership.
Roger Bennett: The Iran thing is just so unbelievably complicated, and I can’t imagine how emotional it must be for every single one of the football fans, many of whom are saying these footballers should not play, they should not represent the nation, they should not give a wind to the governing power, and they will willing their team to lose and exit and have no ability for the government to have any kind of national moment of glory. And there’s those who say this is this is a moment where they should be protesting. And when they do make their statements in the way that you’ve talked about, the national anthem is a moment of incredible pride to watch the Welsh team sing Land of Our Fathers. I’m not Welsh watching their joy. I sobbed, watching a Mexican team. The players sobbed. A number of the Mexican players started weeping. Well, then, I said. It’s an incredibly emotional moment. The Iranian national anthem played in the stadium for their first game, and every single human being on that field who is representing the nation just stood there silently, utterly stony faced. It was a remarkable human moment. But again, many activists say it’s not enough. They need to speak out and speak out aggressively as a counterpoint. Their families are still in Iran. They will be punished. This is a moment of deep complexity. And despite, I should say, you know, maybe the Qatari security forces with too obsessed with their rainbow crackdown, they did try and crack down on the Persian flags that many of the progressive Iranian fans who were there tried to smuggle into the stadium. It was incredible to witness that, again, incredibly brave individuals to be on camera globally, holding up Persian flags, to be holding up flags with the statement, women, life, freedom. Every Iranian game is at this point, nothing, nothing, nothing at all to do with the football. But there’s been another moment, Denmark, the Danish national team. God bless you Scandos. Again. We talked about this I think in episode fourr that the Danish team had decided with their kit manufacturer Hummel that they would take the field wearing specially created jerseys with muted crests, muted sponsor logos. They also have a third kit which is totally black, which they wanted to be a symbol of mourning for those who died when their sponsor, Hummel released a statement saying, we don’t wish to be visible during a tournament that cost thousands of people their lives. That has been remarkable to witness. It was a deeply affective moment, a deeply communicative moment, a messaging moment around the globe. And I say FIFA has stepped in in micro ways on jerseys. FIFA are on it, on the jerseys. Belgium, Tommy had the word love as a tiny detail, tiny detail on the inside of their collar on that second jersey. And FIFA stepped in at the last moment to ban that. FIFA, don’t you think it’s fitting? Tommy, FIFA are of course anti-love.
Tommy Vietor: [laughter] That is actually that that is perfect that and especially like the absolute minutia they will get into to ensure that no one expresses themselves in any way possible is it’s remarkable. It’s embarrassing.
Roger Bennett: This is where we are as we are on day four. And I do believe I do believe, Tommy, we will be podding again. Please, God, soon. If theres a, I mean this is a stupid way to talk about football, but, my God, you’re the man who came up with the notion of an Infantino sandwich, right? [laughter] I think right now we’re in a, again you understand this stuff more than I do. I’m just a humble sports reporter, but I feel like we’re in a Cold War stage of everything that’s about to go down. I’ve got a feeling. I’ve got a feeling it’s about to escalate.
Tommy Vietor: Yeah, I think you might be right. Rog, we got to. We’ve got to close by saying some nice words about our boys, the US team. I got to. I went to a pub in Santa Monica with a buddy of mine an English pub I ate fish and chips. I’ve got to tell you, with all the, you know, the terrible stuff we’ve talked about in the series and with Qatar, it was such a beautiful thing to watch our team play well, to go nuts with a bunch of people. When Christian Pulisic passed that beautiful ball to the other guy whose name I don’t know, and then he scored—
Roger Bennett: Tim Weah. His dad, by the way Pod Save America, Tim Weah’s dad one of the greatest African footballers of all time is currently the president of Liberia. So again, geopolitical facts—
Tommy Vietor: No way.
Roger Bennett: —on this podcast. Yes way.
Tommy Vietor: What a story. That’s so cool.
Roger Bennett: This is a lovely moment, George Weah one of the greatest footballers of all time. Now the president of Liberia never played in a World Cup. Liberia never qualified. It made him ache to watch his son pull on a United States jersey score a delicious goal and he just very tweeted out last night, it’s actually really beautiful. And anyone who anyone who is a parent Tommy, God bless you Tommy Vietor, and your beautiful partner. But anyone who is a parent, what he just tweeted out, this incredible footballer of his son. It’s hard to be the son of a true great. It’s it’s hard hard to be this son of a too great. He just tweeted last night. He tweeted, proud papa, a photo of the two of them. So magnificent—
Tommy Vietor: That is beautiful. That is beautiful.
Roger Bennett: —but I am digressing. You’re saying. You say you watch the game. You’re in the pub.
Tommy Vietor: I loved it. To be in a pub with a bunch of people. Going nuts for your country is the best feeling in the world. You know, and we won’t talk about what happened in, I think, the 82nd minute when the Welsh team scored. But we look good for a while. Christian Pulisic looked good for about 70 minutes. We got to keep him healthy on the field going. But I don’t know. I’m ready for. I’m excited for the game. Friday.
Roger Bennett: Are we ending on a football leg. Is that what you’re asking me?
Tommy Vietor: I dont know.
Roger Bennett: Let’s end this thing on, let’s bring it back to happiness. And I’ll say, just for listeners who may be confused at this moment, because of my English accent, do not let my accent fool you. I ride with Team America now in every way, like Kenny Powers, like Bruce Springsteen, like Dolly Parton, 100% behind this United States team I mean I love them. I adore them. I love the growth of the game. Here on the men’s and women’s side is the story of my lifetime. And I love these young guys. I know a lot of them very, very well. They were a very talented, very young. Possibly they are, not possibly, they are the the most talented. There’s a group of individuals on the men’s side because our women are world beaters. But on the men’s side, they’re the most talented group of young individuals our nation’s ever created. And I can tell you, they’re so young, they don’t know how to be afraid. They truly are fearless. And we play England on Friday. It’s a massive game for the team, for the optics of progress in terms of the growth of the game on the men’s side. And I am filled of excitement. I mean, I adore this team. I am cheering for them. I’ll be watching on Twitch with McConaughey cheering on for the United States boys just as loudly as he will. And ultimately, this is a one piece of life truth that I will give you. People want to know why. It’s a complicated answer I actually wrote a piece for The Wall Street Journal about why. But it boils down to this. Tommy, one simple rule in life if Piers Morgan is on one side of an argument.
Tommy Vietor: [laughter] Yes.
Roger Bennett: Always choose the other, right?
Tommy Vietor: Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. God, I love that. What a rule. What a way to live. [music break]
Tommy Vietor: World Corrupt is an original podcast collaboration from Men in Blazers and Crooked Media’s Pod Save the World alongside Roger Bennett, I’m your host, Tommy Vietor.
Roger Bennett: The executive producers and writers of World Corrupt are me, Roger Bennett, my great friend Tommy Vietor and Men in Blazers’ Jonathan Williamson, who incredibly edited and sound designed the episodes, bit like Phil Collins drumming and singing at the very same time.
Tommy Vietor: [laughs] A talented man. From the Crooked Media side. Our executive producers are Michael Martinez, Sandy Girard, and Giancarlo Bizzaro. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Haley Muse, and our associate producer is Saul Rubin.
Roger Bennett: For Men in Blazers, our producer is Miranda Davis and Martin S.
Tommy Vietor: This episode was fact checked by Nikki Shaner-Bradford. Music by Vasilis Fotopoulos.
Roger Bennett: With editing assistance from Nick Firchau.
Tommy Vietor: Additional production support from Crooked Media’s Zuri Irvin, Kyle Seglin and Ari Schwartz.
Roger Bennett: And Men in Blazers Mix Diskerud.
Tommy Vietor: Special thanks to Crooked Media, Julia Beach, Amelia Montooth and Matt DeGroot.
Roger Bennett: As well as Men Blazers. Scott Deon, Michael Milberger, and Alex Sale for their promotional social support and love.