There’s never a good time for an organisation to have six of its top officials arrested.
But for it to happen just two days before the election of a new President must be particularly inconvenient for FIFA. Aside from the individuals involved, some of whom have already pleaded guilty according to press reports, loyal supporters of the status quo within the hierarchy of world football must surely be as sick as what I understand should be called a “pandemonium” of parrots. Chickens may well be coming home to roost at a rate of knots; and those ostrich-like corruption-deniers may yet find that they have some rather large omelettes on their faces.
There was sure to be a deluge of adverse comment in next weekend’s press in any case, as Mr Blatter (no doubt) once more settled himself into the throne at the head of that somewhat less than fragrant institution. Although the organisation has been scrutinised intensely in the past, it has still managed to maintain a sufficiently robust veneer of respectability to prevent any actual PR disaster. Blatter is the great survivor – but it may not just be his position that is at risk here.
At best, the current situation may simply inflict even more damage on FIFA’s tottering reputation. But at worst this could even be the beginning of the end, as the whole edifice comes crashing down.
Sponsors are fundamental to the running of FIFA and, in particular, the World Cup. Without sufficient support from sponsors, the jewel in the crown of world football simply could not be staged, as FIFA freely admits on its website.
It would be so interesting to sit in on today’s editorial meeting at the BBC‘s Panorama programme. Their allegations in 2010, which also came out at a less-than-helpful time (just before the announcement of the hosts for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups), were ultimately not enough to strike a real body blow. But with both the Swiss and US police involved now in very high profile bribery investigations, it seems unlikely that FIFA can convince sponsors that it is – in its current form – a whiter-than-white organisation which has the kind of reputation which is still worth buying a piece of, whatever the viewing figures and merchandising opportunities.
Sponsorship feeds off associations. It follows success, passion, endeavour, clean living, glamour and achievement. But it heads for the hills at the mention of drugs, infidelity, racism, rape and corruption. The merest whiff of corrupt dealings can instantly transform a worldwide sponsorship package bought in good faith for tens or hundreds of millions into an infectious disease which is spread by the media and can quickly wreak havoc with a brand’s reputation.
Conversely, to be seen to immediately distance oneself from such developments can have a very powerful positive effect on a brand. Damage limitation of that kind, even if only a temporary measure, can prove a much more cost-effective strategy than toughing it out and trying to stay under the media radar.
Nonetheless, whilst the police start digging in the FIFA “garden” and checking out its cupboards for yet more skeletons, the media focus may well widen to include the organisation’s main funders – some of the planet’s biggest brands.
Image credit: Germany lifts the 2014 World Cup – by Agência Brasil () [CC BY 3.0 br (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons