Stop the presses; Breaking news; Get Oprah Winfrey on the phone; Don’t let Kylie Minogue find out: David Woods is writing about football.
I never thought I’d see the day when I’d be voluntarily writing a blog about ‘the beautiful game’, but with the growing allegations against FIFA’s leadership dominating the headlines this week, I feel somewhat fascinated.
In a nut shell, at least according to Sky News, seven senior FIFA officials were arrested in their (naturally) five-star hotel in Zurich over claims they had been part of "rampant, systemic and deep-rooted" corruption running through football over a 24-year period. US authorities, including the FBI, have alleged a total of nine FIFA executives and five sports media and promotions executives, are facing charges connected to the case, which they dubbed a "World Cup of fraud".
As I write these words, news broke that the major global sponsors of FIFA’s World Cup including Visa, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, are voicing concerns about their investment in sponsorships going forward (significant, considering sponsorship makes up about a third of FIFA’s earnings).
FIFA’s Sepp Blatter is scheduled to stand for re-election to a fifth term as FIFA President at the organisation’s Congress today. And even with all the scandalous news this week, I understand it is extremely likely that his presidency will continue, despite many heavyweights demanding for his resignation. The British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has urged FIFA to “clean up its act”, while FA chairman Greg Dyke has said there is no way of building trust in FIFA, while Blatter is in the top job.
Trust in the brands we love is paramount. I’ve written before about the value of values, so I’ve looked up FIFA’s mission statement: FIFA’s mission is develop football everywhere and for all, to touch the world through its inspiring tournaments and to build a better future through the power of the game.
Critics have questioned FIFA’s choices to host the forthcoming World Cup Tournaments in Moscow and Qatar. Both Russia and Qatar have a reputation for homophobic discrimination, while the latter has no history of football and incredibly hot temperatures, making play difficult for teams. The choices are surprising, so corruption theories have been circulating months if not years before this week’s breaking news.
Blatter himself has attracted criticism from the media, senior football figures and players, due to controversial statements. These include the claim that on-field racism could be corrected with a 'handshake', among others.
He also drew criticism at the 2014 FIFA World Cup seeding, when he interrupted a "one minute silence" for former South-African president Nelson Mandela, who died the day before, after eleven seconds. In 1995, Blatter declared that "the future of football is feminine”, but in 2004, Blatter said female footballers should "wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts... to create a more female aesthetic" and attract more male fans, remarks that were ridiculed in the press.
This isn’t an attempt to character assassinate Blatter or lambast FIFA or football, but something has to change – because these evidences don’t contribute to a ‘better future for all’ in my humble opinion. A mission statement is not just an HR or employee issue – it’s a branding strategy and a marketing concept as well. A corporate’s entire brand should flow from its mission and everything it says and does should have this in mind.
I remember during my theology course at university, a lecturer telling us that, for many, football could be considered a religion. Football fans place faith and trust in their team and their sport, invest significant amounts of their money in tickets, merchandise or television for the sport and look forward to matches on Saturdays, planning their summers around the big tournaments.
I believe that these fans share in the vision of FIFA, to build a better future through football, so if the people at the very top of their governing body are not emulating this value in every decision they make, then I think the call to clean up their act, is an understatement.
Football fans are seeing a conflict of the FIFA brand – in other words, a disconnect between what it says it does, and what it’s actually doing. The sponsors I listed previously have clear values. Coca Cola for instance states its values are: to refresh the world in mind, body and spirit; to inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions; to create value and make a difference.
Coca Cola keeps this mission throughout all its branding and the partnerships it chooses will be important in how its brand is perceived. So in the case of FIFA, in order to maintain these commercial relationships and the faith of the millions of football fans, now is the time to live the values and mission FIFA proudly places on its website. It’s time for an honest conversation from FIFA, a moral and ethical investigation and, if appropriate genuine attempts to move forward keeping the mission statement at the heart of this progress.
This is a prime example of how if the values in an organisation slip to the side line (see what I did there?), it’s not long before trust fails and commercial – and in this case legal - implications follow. As far as marketing is concerned, FIFA has now been forced to move into crisis comms mode.
The leaders of an organisation have to be the brand ambassadors and if they are seen to not be living the values, trust will fail. A lesson for all business leaders in all sectors, I think….