AFR: Postcard from Singapore (Airport)

FIFA Official Store in Singapore's Changi Airport
My father and I checking out the FIFA Official Store in Singapore's Changi Airport

A Football Report: Soraya Soemadiredja, writing not from Singapore, but Manila.

A month before the World Cup, Africa and African footballing culture—at least, as dictated by FIFA—has taken over a little area of Southeast Asia in the FIFA Official Store. Not in Geneva, not in Johannesburg, but in Singapore.

To remind us that the World Cup is A Big Deal, in January of 2008 FIFA opened its first Official Store in the new terminal of Singapore international airport, where in 2009, there were 27 million passengers that came and went. That’s means foot traffic from anywhere of 200 cities in 60 countries. That’s a lot of mobile football fans.

FIFA were clever. For those who’ve never experienced it, South-east Asia is a region that is absolutely football mad. Singapore is a city-state where football has established roots and branches. The local national league is one of the more established in the region, attracts foreigners as well as great local professional players, and has a regionally strong national team.

More practically, the Singapore airport is one of the most important global air-route hubs. Transcontinental air travel and the most popular sport in the world seem to work well together as many airline companies and footballing entities have found a comfortable partnership with one another. Turkish Airlines are sponsoring Barcelona FC, their advert keeps playing on all the international news channels. Manchester United for a while were sponsored by budget airline Air Asia, as their Official Low Fare Airline. Whether or not Rooney and co. would take it to hop around South-east Asia is another matter. Emirates Airlines are always sponsoring football, official sponsors of the Asian Confederation of Football, Arsenal Football Club. It makes sense that FIFA, as a global machine, would want to tap into the global consumer.

These days, the big seller is not just the numerous Zakumi dolls, toys, puppets, that have taken over the store, but the numerous African teams’ related gear—not just the African world cup participants but of Somalia, Egypt, and the like. Unfortunately, it’s not really much in the ways of the different cultures in Southern Africa, nor South Africa itself. Throw in a few other novelty items, like that front-page headline about the stolen Jules Rimet trophy on a shirt, FIFA shows us it can be funny. A few months ago, they were conjuring feelings nostalgia of World Cups past with memorabilia of old World Cup slogans, Mexico, Uruguay, Argentina, Italy, USA, in the form of official posters of the events, throwback shirts and jerseys plastered with slogans of World Cup participants in the style of the times.

This store is a way to advertise South Africa as a sporting destination, at least for the coming year. However, are they really doing us, and South Africa—or any other upcoming host nation—a service, by exporting this sanitary culture of football? The idea that everybody gets along when the whistle signalling kick-off goes and that we celebrate other country’s wins as long as they were scored by a beautiful goal is a nice thought, but not necessarily very appropriate especially reading the headlines of world wide poverty and conflict.

Is FIFA exporting the artificial language of the ball? “World Population 6.6, All Football Fans” is plastered on the wall, but while we know it is not exactly an accurate statement, can it possibly become true beyond the run-up to a World Cup? Are they selling a new global culture or are they just selling?

There’s only this one outpost so far, but the idea of FIFA Official Stores proliferating airports worldwide can be both frightening as well as kind of cool. On the one hand, the familiarity of football to us fans may help us feel more at home in a strange place. On the other, it may seem like an ambush—after a sixteen hour overnight, dehydrated, wearing those free oh-so-sexy DVT-socks, not having a clue what time it is or where your clothes are—but hey, look! It’s FIFA, encouraging you to get out your travellers’ cheques and credit cards out.

The governing body of football, and not just clubs, remind us that marketing and money-making is a part of football and it is definitely here to stay. Tell me again, what are the signs of the apocalypse?

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