FIFA World Cup’s l’affaire drone shakes the place up

The name’s Bond. James Bond.

One’s not really sure what kind of stimulating beverages Didier Deschamps, head coach (manager in football parlance) of Team France at the FIFA World Cup has been imbibing lately. Keeping with the Bond terminology, it must have been a strong variety of vodka martini. Shaken, not stirred.

What’s the big deal?

Deschamps has told all and sundry that an entity unknown has been sending espionage drones to gather intelligence over his squad’s training grounds in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

“We don’t want anybody to interfere with our privacy,” Deschamps was quoted Sunday (in his native Franch language), adding – with a typical Gallic shrug – that “there’s not much we can do about it.”

His squad would then go on and dismantle Team Honduras, 3-0.

An unmarked drone plane, Deschamps clarified, has been flying in circles above the Ribeirao Preto area, and Team France’s training grounds. The French manager said, too, that he had filed a complaint with FIFA.

FIFA, world football’s governing body, wouldn’t comment, saying only a complaint was received and would be investigated. Any results yet? No.

Since Deschamps made his critical observation before his squad’s then-upcoming match versus Honduras, a Honduran reporter felt it was his duty to open his question by making a statement. He said at Deschamps’ news briefing, that, so far as he was aware, his country’s club would never stoop so low. The French manager issued yet another typical Gallic shrug.

Not that drones are anythying unusual these days. Anywhere around the globe, in general, and in Brazil, in particular. Given the volatile world we live in, World Cup organizers leave nothing to chance (and a terrorist opportunity). When Team England players decided they wanted to see a favela the other day, their entourage included several armoured military and police vehicles, a few helicopters, all filled with full (and fully-armed) crews, and a couple of drones (no crews on board, but somebody’s got to control these machines from somewhere). For the uninitiated, those too lazy to look the word up, here’s a brief definition excerpted (stolen) from Wikipedia: Favela is the term for a slum in Brazil, most often within urban areas. Whether Team England guys went to a favela to learn how the other half lives, or whether they saw one used to help make international tourist traffic more varied, is perfectly irrelevant. What is relevant here is that drones were flying overhead like nobody’s business.

So, may be, just may be, French team manager Didier Deschamps is just more than a tad paranoid, or he partook of beverages he would have been much better off avoiding.

Or not.

Professional sports as an entertainment industry sector involves too much money to dare leave anything to chance. It’s no longer about sports. Hasn’t been, in fact, for decades. Since industrial espionage and illicit trade in intellectual property secrets have long ago become an almost acceptable way to conduct business, no wonder Didier Deschamps sounds (and – most probably – is, too) alarmed.

Sharing insider trading information is still punishable by applicable law. Except, only those stupid enough to be caught end up serving time. The others? Remember, if you accuse them, you have to prove their guilt. They do not have to prove their innocence. You can be banging your head against the wall it’s so obvious. Yet, have you a proof that shows the accused party is guilty as charged beyond any doubt, reasonable or otherwise? No? Then stop your frivolous abuse of the judiciary.

Come to think of it, it’s not so long ago that an American football club (poor man’s rugby to real football aficionados) stood accused of videotaping an opposing team’s practice. Guilty as charged, the NFL would conclude, meting out severe punishment. Well, frankly speaking, it was severe only in the context of that particular sport.

Closer to home, Michel Therrien, the Montreal Canadiens head coach, was all agog recently after he noticed that Ulf Samuelsson, the New York Rangers’ assistant coach, was sitting in the stands at the Bell Centre, watching the Habs going through their game-day morning skate drills. Therrien got so hot around his collar he asked his general manager, Marc Bergevin, to see to it that poor Samuelsson be escorted out in disgrace.

By the way, to make this situation even funnier, Samuelsson would return on legitimate business within minutes: it was his squad’s turn to take to the Bell Centre ice in their own game-day morning skate.

And all that in a situation where the two squads know each other inside out, where their scouting and video coaches have spent hours (if not days) dissecting detailed video footage of the upcoming opponent’s game frame by frame.

Therrien would later claim he thought there was a gentlemen’s agreement in place. What he meant by that remains (and will remain) one of those sweet mysteries of life.

After all, a U.S. politician once famously said that gentlemen do not read other people’s mail. That was a long time ago, and then-Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson didn’t really mean it. He didn’t like deciphering other countries’ diplomatic communications traffic. He had no issues with espionage as such. Of course, cryptography (decoding) has been an integral part of intelligence gathering since day one, and Stimson’s statement would delay the organization of U.S. intelligence agencies for several years. But that’s another story.

To get back to the imbroglio over alleged espionage drones in Sao Paulo: quite frankly, hearing of the ungodly number of billions of dollars spent by the Brazilians to stage the World Cup in the first place, and the billions spent by individual national football associations in attempts to get their teams to the dance, and once there, make sure they succeed, the entire l’affaire drone is unconscionable. Favela inhabitants, one and all of them, could get a villa of their own, with Olympic-size swimming pools both inside and outside of the house, each and everyone of them, just for a fraction of those costs.

Here’s the main reason why it’s unconscionable: if the money was forthcoming from private sources to the last cent, fine, you can dispose of your own income any way, shape or form you please. The tragic thing is most of the dough spent on such sporting affairs comes from taxpayers’ pockets. And that’s precisely what makes it unacceptable.

Bread and circuses (now adjusted to bread and games) comes from the original Latin: Panem et circenses. It was used in ancient Rome at a time all those present felt their empire would live and rule the then-known world forever.

Just look where it got ancient Rome.

Can’t we learn from history?

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