United Passions: How Fifa spent £16m on a film where Sepp Blatter is a hero
A £19m film version of Fifa's history, in which president Sepp Blatter is one of the heroes, is opening in Serbia but no plans have been announced for worldwide release. What is going on?
Sepp Blatter is happy to have been played by Tim Roth. "In this case the casting was well done," the president of Fifa said when he met the actor at a lakeside hotel. "We have some common, let's say, qualities."
Roth, star of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, portrays the Swiss administrator in United Passions.
Roth as Blatter
The film tells how Fifa, world football's governing body, grew from its creation by a dedicated bunch of "mavericks" in Paris in 1904 to become overseer of today's multi-billion-pound industry.
Gerard Depardieu plays long-serving president Jules Rimet, credited with creating the World Cup in 1930. Sam Neill is Blatter's immediate predecessor, Brazilian Joao Havelange.
Fifa, which supplied £16m of the film's £19m budget, says it is "open, self-critical and highly enjoyable", as it deals with efforts to defeat corruption. It has been suggested, however, that Blatter demanded changes to the script.
It has been noted that the money is the equivalent of one year's funding for Fifa's "Goal" programme that supports football in poorer nations.
The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last month, with Fifa facing accusations that it is a mere vanity project showing Blatter and Havelange as commercial visionaries. "Everything I've done up until this point has been for the good of football," Blatter's character says in the official trailer.
There are unintentional echoes of Fifa's current image problems. A Uruguayan official is depicted telling Jules Rimet: "You need the money, we need the world championship."
Fifa has been accused of ignoring bribery over Qatar's successful bid to hold the 2022 World Cup. Blatter responded by describing parts of the British media as "racist".
Greg Dyke, chairman of the England's Football Association, has since called for Blatter, who has been in charge of Fifa since Havelange quit in 1998 amid allegations of accepting bribes, to resign. "Among the British public, the Fifa brand is severely damaged," he said. "I suspect that is true throughout large parts of Europe."
Fifa is now a huge brand, lending its name to computer games, football stickers, books and other merchandise. Can United Passions improve its image?
"It's an appalling trailer," says public relations expert Mark Borkowski. "In a way it underlines the level to which Fifa's reputation has gone. It's idea porn, really. People in an organisation get very excited about something and, within their little bubble, they convince themselves that it's brilliant."
This movie, like Fifa itself, looks terrible," said comedian John Oliver on the US show Last Week Tonight. "Who makes a sports film where the heroes are the executives?"
"With Fifa sanctioning and Blatter helping promote it," writes Ryan Rosenblatt, ironically, on the SB Nation sports website, "I'm sure United Passions will be a fair, accurate look at world football's governing body."
The trailer, which has generated more than 57,000 views on YouTube, is all most people can currently see of United Passions. The film is scheduled for release in Serbia on Thursday, following a launch in Portugal last week. Fifa is promising it will be out in several other countries, including Russia, soon.
No UK release date has been announced. "We will make a communication at the appropriate moment," says a spokeswoman for publicists Cinepress.
Of the film's three stars, only Depardieu attended the Cannes premiere. Roth, who declined to speak to the BBC, has previously hinted at subversion in his performance.
"I was like, 'Where's all the corruption in the script?'" he told the Times. "Where is all the back-stabbing, the deals? So it was a tough one. I tried to slide in a sense of it, as much as I could get in there." Director Frederic Auburtin has said he inserted "ironic parts".
Given this attitude and the limited release, is there a sense of embarrassment about the project?