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The Fifa saga, already awash in
alleged corruption, international
intrigue and long-arm justice, can
now add irony to its unwinding tale.
On Friday, just nine days after Fifa
officials and executives were dramat-
ically indicted for what the Department
of Justice claimed was pervasive rack-
eting and bribery in international soccer,
a movie largely paid for by Fifa and
trumpeting its glories is set to open in
a handful of US theaters and on video-
United Passions is a $US30-million
production starring some big names,
including Tim Roth as Fifa president,
Sepp Blatter, who himself resigned
Tuesday after winning re-election just
It s a starry fiction that casts Fifa s
history and its leaders in a glowing
light, just as hard reality is crashing
down on an organisation long viewed
as a bastion of corruption.
The timing is largely a matter of luck
or misfortune, depending how you look
at it. United Passion, directed by French
filmmaker Frédéric Auburtin (Paris, Je
T Aime) and also starring Gérard Depar-
dieu as World Cup creator Jules Rimet
and Sam Neill as former Fifa president
Joao Havelange, first debuted last sum-
mer ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
But after premiering at the Cannes
Film Festival, it was released in only a
handful of countries and went straight
to DVD in France. Screen Media Films,
which is distributing the film in the
US, scheduled the release months ago
to coincide with Fifa s presidential elec-
tion and the upcoming women s World
"We re not here to promote Fifa s
image," says Suzanne Blench, president
of Screen Media. "They made this film.
I m releasing this film because it s a
soccer story. We re not here to try to
do anything to alter the truth of what s
happening. It s a biopic. Liberties are
taken. We are just giving people a
chance to take a look at it."
United Passions has the benefit of
being uncommonly timely and the
embarrassment of having its faux-nar-
rative blown apart by real-world events.
The film tells the 110-year history
of the Fédération Internationale de
Football Association, skipping from
president to president. Its official tagline
earlier promoted it as a heroic story of
"three deeply ethical men."
In one scene set in 1998, Roth s Blat-
ter is cast as the upholder of ethics:
"The slightest breach of ethics will be
severely punished," he chides.
About 80 per cent of the movie was
financed by Fifa, and its executives were
deeply involved. In a letter to Fifa mem-
bers last June, Jerome Valcke, secretary
general, wrote that the film is an "open,
self-critical and highly enjoyable" story
of Fifa. Valcke is currently under scruti-
ny for allegedly helping authorise US$10
million in bribes for World Cup bidding
votes, which he has denied.
The close involvement with Fifa has
opened up United Passion to a lot of
scorn. On Last Week Tonight, John
Oliver wondered: "Who makes a sports
film where the heroes are the execu-
Auburtin, speaking by phone from
France, said he didn t want to heap fur-
ther criticism on Fifa, but also noted
he s happily now very distant from the
film, beginning work on a new film.
"I ve moved on," he says. "It s behind
me, far away."
Did Auburtin know what he was get-
Tim Roth as Sepp Blatter in a scene from
United Passions. AP PHOTO
While heads roll, Fifa-backed
movie opens in the US
ting into? Only to a certain degree, he says, noting
he was hired by a production company, not Fifa, and
that Fifa s financial backing of the movie doubled
just before shooting started. But he knew he would
be limited in how he presented the federation.
"I m not so dumb," says Auburtin. "I knew that
Fifa producing the film for around 80 or more per
cent, it would be narrow for me to say more things
that I wanted to say before. You don t bite the hand
who s feeding you."
The film does show the way money greased the
way for various decisions, even the location of the
first World Cup (Uruguay).
And it depicts the encroaching power of big business
and corporate sponsors into a once simple sport.
Now, Auburtin notes, referring to the events of the
last week: "We are in the Godfather movie."
"I wanted with this film always to be honest with
the audience and honest with my producers, and
Fifa are part of the producers," Auburtin says.
Auburtin describes an arduous process of trying
desperately to find a way to tell a 100-year history
flatteringly but also inserting whatever subtext he
"I accept that people don t like the film," he says.
"Maybe I don t have any distance, but I watch a lot
of movies. I don t think it s such crap. This is a real
movie telling a story. I knew it couldn t be something
else with all the conditions.
"What I regret, of course, is to be associated with
such a big disaster, which is what s happening to Fifa
right now," he adds. "Everything is rotten with sport
United Passions is a
starring some big names,
including Tim Roth as Fifa
president, Sepp Blatter,
who himself resigned
Tuesday after winning re-
election just last week.
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