What to Know About FIFA's Ridiculous Film That Makes Sepp Blatter Look Heroic (Opinion)

United Passions Still - H 2015
David Koskas

United Passions Still - H 2015

Imagine the most boring sports film ever.

Could the timing be any more ironic?

United Passions, a comically bad FIFA-financed film about the history of FIFA that is designed to make its former leaders Sepp Blatter, Joao Havelange and Jules Rimet look heroic (and the British look really, really bad) opens in the U.S. Friday just days after Blatter resigned FIFA's presidency in the wake of the indictment of 14 soccer officials on corruption charges.

The film is nothing short of propaganda to burnish the image of Blatter and FIFA, full of digs at the British and scenes showing Blatter fighting corruption. It is like something you watch before seeing a museum exhibit or the worst industrial film ever — and it is certainly the most boring sports movie of all time.

United Passions premiered last year at the Cannes Film Festival and got a limited release in Slovenia, Portugal and a few other countries. It appears to have grossed just a fraction of its budget, variously estimated at between $25 million to $32 million. FIFA is said to have put up about three-quarters of the money (an amount roughly equal to what it spends in a year on its Goal program to build facilities in developing countries).

The reviews have been predictably bad. The New York Times called the supposedly-based-in-real-life film an “epic fantasy.”

The Hollywood Reporter's critic Frank Scheck concluded, “Even without the cloud of the recent disturbing developments, United Passions is a cringeworthy, self-aggrandizing affair that mainly benefits from its unintentional camp value.”

The cast is running from the film. Tim Roth, who plays Blatter, turned down a THR request for comment. Sam Neill, who plays Blatter predecessor Havelange, avoided interviews to promote the film last year. Only Gerard Depardieu, who plays FIFA founder Rimet and helped put the film together, showed up for the Cannes premiere. 

To his credit, writer-director Frédéric Auburtin did talk to The New York Times recently about the film. “I didn't have the freedom to do a Michael Moore movie at all,” he said. "Every time we are showing something about Blatter himself, it's very, very difficult because the guy is the boss,” he said. “The guy is co-producing more than half the film, nearly 80 percent.” He added, “As we say in France, don't be more royalist than the king: Don't be the king if you are not the king.”

The main purpose of the film seems to further Blatter's goal of holding on to power by currying favor among the soccer associations in developing countries and making him look like the only honest man in soccer.

The first is accomplished by making the British into racist, colonial villains — comically bad villains. The Mirror called it the most “clumsily executed” anti-English propaganda “since Lord Haw-Haw [a British traitor who worked for the Nazis] took to the airwaves.”

When we first meet the British, one official says of FIFA's request that Britain join the new organization, "How ridiculous! What do foreigners understand of our beautiful game?"

Later another British character responds to the idea of holding the first World Cup in Uruguay with, “What's the use in organizing a World Cup in the Americas, in a country no one's ever heard of, which is a stranger to modernity? And why not at the tip of Africa with the Zulus while we're at it?"

And to drive home the point, he adds (after the woman he is talking with suggests the Zulus might be good at football), “The natives of Africa are stupid and undisciplined. It's just their nature. How could they possibly be expected to appreciate the subtleties of a game invented by the whites?"

The film also conveniently mostly skips over the two Brits (Arthur Drewry and Stanley Rous) who ran FIFA from 1955 to 1974. It goes directly from Rimet's presidency (1921-1954) to Havelange (1974-98) and Blatter (1998-2015).

Rous does appear in the film — only to be lectured by an exasperated Havelange: "The future of our sport lies in Africa, and in Asia, and America and if you cannot see that, I cannot help you."

British newspapers were, of course, particularly upset by how their countrymen were portrayed, but Brit-bashing has long been a subsport in the sport of football.

Sepp Blatter, the Sainted Sepp, comes across as the one true honest man in football. When he takes over FIFA he tells the organization's board, “The slightest breach of ethics will be severely punished."

Not only is Blatter incorruptible, but he basically invents corporate sponsorships, which are presented as good for the game. In particular, two sponsors — Adidas and Coke — get special treatment, with lots of scenes featuring them in a positive light: poor kids in a ghetto in a developing country kicking around an Adidas ball and then cooling off with a Coke.

In another scene Blatter personally pays the salary of some FIFA employees when the organization is low on cash.

And on it goes.

United Passions opens Friday, June 5, in New York, L.A., Phoenix, Miami, Minneapolis, D.C., Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Kansas City and on VOD.