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Despite image problem, a new FIFA museum glorifies European Football

While all attention is turned to FIFA's corruption scandals and its newly elected president Gianni Infantino, a new Swiss museum celebrates the governing body of world football in high glance - as if nothing happened.

The new FIFA World Football museum is located on Tessinerplatz, in Zurich. That's just a short walk away from the five-star hotel Baur au Lac, where seven FIFA officials were arrested in 2015 on charges of fraud, extortion and money laundering.

"FIFA World Football Museum": huge silver letters adorn the high-rise building that houses not only a 3,000-square-meter (32,000-sq-foot) exhibition hall, but also offices and apartments. Although some 128 million euros ($140 million) were invested in the museum, which opened to the public on February 28, its design is rather unpretentious.

"It is symbolically restrained," summarized the architect Sacha Menz.

"The house has many rough edges, just like the football!," added the director of the museum Stefan Jost.

A rainbow for equality

On the ground floor, the so-called "Rainbow" displays the jerseys of all 209 national football associations in a round glass case, all members of FIFA . Properly folded and according to color, everything still seems to be orderly here.

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Rainbow at FIFA World Football Museum, Zurich - Copyright: FIFA World Football Museum

The "Rainbow" is accompanied by a 15-meter-high video installation running in the background

"We asked ourselves, should the teams be displayed chronologically, or according to the size of the association or their number of world titles? No, we simply arranged them by color, as each member country has one vote. That's equality," explained Jost.

Another space offers the "Chronicle," where the history of the association is revisited along a timeline going back to the early days of organized football in England in 1863 and the foundation of FIFA in 1904, up to the suspension of president Joseph Blatter in 2015. Yes, it is actually mentioned there.

How screens changed the game

One thing that stands out is the fact that visitors are flooded with constant walls of images of sounds throughout the entire exhibition. Aiming to reproduce the atmosphere of a stadium, "The room-high 180-degree screen with sophisticated sound design creates emotional impact," said Gabriele Karau, who was responsible for the exhibition's design. Her creative agency, Triad, based in Berlin, also oversaw the conception of the German Football Museum in Dortmund.

World Cup Gallery in FIFA World Football Museum, Zurich - Copyright: FIFA World Football Museum

From brown to black and white: balls in the "World Cup Gallery"

The architects integrated several multimedia installations, including 67 video projectors: huge screens flash and flicker wherever you go. Ironically, haggling over television rights had contributed to turning the once ailing FIFA into a worldwide multi-billion business under Joseph Blatter's leadership - but this is not discussed anywhere in the museum.

Instead, the show boasts over 1,000 exhibits, several historic pictures, posters and billboards, along with videos specially commissioned by the museum. It also includes 15 interactive stations, for example on the background of the actual ball used in matches.

"Most people think the ball has always been black and white - that's not true," explains the museum's director Jost.

"Footballs used to be brown. In 1970, satellite technology was introduced. The brown balls were hard to see on black-and-white televisions. So balls were made black and white so people could see them on TV."

FIFA World Football Museum, Zurich - Copyright: FIFA World Football Museum

This timeline celebrates all of the highlights of FIFA history but ignores much of the association's current problems

Despite the crisis

The museum rather predictably avoided putting any emphasis on FIFA's current image problem. Some of the exhibits nevertheless offer some clues on the transactions that happened behind the screens, such as FIFA infamous suitcases of money or the transcript of the conversation held between Joseph Blatter and Jack Warner, former Vice President of FIFA, who had obtained the million-dollar-worth TV rights for the FIFA World Cup in the Caribbean in 1998 - for $1.

Joseph Blatter, Copyright: REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Scandal-ridden: ex-FIFA President Joseph Blatter

The current crisis of the governing body, from corruption to money laundering, is not discussed in the museum - at least not yet, explains Stefan Jost: "We want to show all aspects of football, including the dark ones. But we need more distance to the developing events before we can really show what happened." Nevertheless, the museum's director remains confident: "Corrupt officials cannot destroy football!"

To the claim that the FIFA museum only offers a narcissistic tribute to the so-called golden age of football, the museum director responds: "We want to show the result of FIFA's work. That's not only the administration's work; FIFA member associations and all those volunteers out there are working to develop football every day. We do not want to glorify ourselves."

Traditionally, museums aim to offer space for reflection. But the FIFA museum avoids invoking any hard-hitting questions. Though much could be said on the effects of combining sport with infotainment and media concentration, this exhibition simply hails the emotional appeal of European football through the most modern multimedia and interactive means.

As the post-Blatter era begins following the election of Gianni Infantino on 26 Feburary, one can only hope that under the new leadership the museum can start addressing FIFA's corruption scandal as well and commit itself to presenting a full picture on the history of the governing body of world football.

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