World soccer is one of the planet’s great soap operas, but there’s one reality that doesn’t change regardless of the drama: Brazil has always been known for its star-studded team. The soccer community is still a bit baffled by this year’s Olympic edition of the Manédam Rally, though, which takes place in Salvador, a city once called Bom Bovo and, at its modern-day peak, was the social center of Brazil’s soccer-mad northeast region.
That’s where the 20th edition of the Manédam Rally occurs. But not in one of the convention areas of the city. Instead, the Manédam Rally happens annually in the sprawling woods surrounding the home of the archbishop in Brasileiro. For the past 16 years, footballers and directors from all over the world have gathered for the third-place match of the Olympic soccer tournament, with the hopes of lifting more than just their respective spirits: It’s also a crucial meeting of global soccer’s body, FIFA, and a chance to make progress for the sport on the international scene.
After waiting for so long, this year at least, hopes and dreams were high. The two finalists in the 2016 Olympics, France and Germany, would come face-to-face in the second-place match, while Argentina looked destined to pick up the silver after losing to host Brazil in the semifinal. Many FIFA directors were hopeful the Manédam Rally was going to turn things around for the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), which has faced institutional crisis over the past two years and is dealing with the fallout of the collapse of a FIFA executive committee in 2011.
Without FIFA President Sepp Blatter, it is hard to say things are quite as rosy: While UEFA’s leader, Michel Platini, appears to be taking the reins at the organization, Blatter isn’t present at the governing body’s headquarters.