Sponsors must kick FIFA where it hurts

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I’ve witnessed first-hand the bizarre spectacle of FIFA president Sepp Blatter berating journalists. I was at FIFA’s headquarters in Zurich when headline sponsor Coca-Cola unveiled its 2010 World Cup campaign.

The FIFA president was amiable throughout his presentation until a question came from the floor about security arrangements in South Africa, which Blatter dismissed with a wave of his hand and refused to answer.

He was asked the same question a couple more times which saw him become increasingly rattled before he lost his cool completely. His face reddened as he stamped his feet and accused the journalist of impudence. He pointed his finger at the group in front of him and instructed us to move on and find a new question or else he would leave the stage and end the session.

As comic as this sounds, Blatter’s latest performance in front of journalists is of genuine worry. In refusing to acknowledge concerns regarding the alleged corruption that has so far done for the jobs of four senior FIFA figures, Blatter demonstrates zero sense of responsibility to the world’s football associations, FIFA’s partner sponsors and, most importantly, the sport itself and its fans all over the world.

Neither Blatter nor FIFA appear to see his contemptuous denial of a crisis as much of a problem and he looks certain to be crowned (unopposed) as FIFA president for another term. Calls from the English and Scottish Football Associations for the “election” to be postponed
look like they will achieve little.

“Partnership is part of a business plan and the shine of a property like the FIFA World Cup won’t remain untarnished forever”

Our only hope for some accountability is the global brands that sponsor FIFA’s lavish properties. A welcome breaking of ranks has already emerged from partners Coca-Cola, Adidas, Visa and Emirates. It’s rare to see sponsors criticise the property holder so publicly but these brands have much to protect.

Partnership isn’t a vanity exercise for sponsors, it’s part of a business plan and the shine of a property like the FIFA World Cup won’t remain untarnished forever. Adidas understands as much as it seeks to use its London 2012 associations to overtake Nike as the UK’s top sports brand. FIFA’s other partners should come out and voice their dissatisfaction. In the short term they will benefit by distancing their brands from corruption claims and being seen to share the world’s outrage. In the long term they could be the difference between FIFA accepting responsibility and football’s governing body completely neglecting to act. Show Blatter and his followers that they can’t rely on FIFA’s $1.3bn income in 2010 being repeated in future World Cup years.

Mark Choueke, editor

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