By Che Ambe
June 02, 2015
Imagine the head of a multinational or a cartel on the eve of his re-election finds himself in the midst of a global opprobrium, with some of his inner bolts pleading guilty, squeezed by investigators and others in jail, yet he cruises to victory. The Sepp Blatter victory for another four-year term as head of the soccer body FIFA, May 29, 2015, was stunning to many, especially Americans. Even more baffling was when Mr. Blatter himself claimed ignorance of the malfeasance against the organization he has come to incarnate. Mr. Blatter has been a member of Fifa since 1977, as a technical director before being elected president in 1998. For the rest of the soccer-conscious world, it was predestined as powerful incumbents like Blatter, (especially with the support of Africa and Asia), retire on their choosing, as they embody the system, conversant with its politics, and could play it to their advantage anytime.
Still for many other observers, several questions remained unanswered by FIFA. Was Sepp Blatter disingenuous, was he asleep at the switch, or was it just what has been guaranteeing his long stay at the helm of the world’s most powerful sports organization? If the fish is truly rotten at the head then, what can be done to salvage the tainted image of the beautiful game of football which is synonymous to FIFA and Blatter (until today June 02,2015)?
The focus to most reformers and critics of Mr. Blatter, is now on the sponsors, some of whom following corruption probes last year concerning the award of the 2018 and 2022 world cups, severed ties with the organization. The first was Emirate Airlines, followed by Sony which refused to renew its 8-year $277 million contract with the body signed in 2005. Although Sony claimed it was about investing elsewhere, analysts believe it wasn’t unconnected to the soaring corruption allegations. The German tire company Continental and Fuel Company Castrol, also allowed their FIFA contracts to lapse last year.
FIFA’s top sponsors now according to its website are Visa, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Hyundai and Kia, Gazprom and McDonalds and Budweiser. These sponsors are the financial life wire of the organization, and according to FIFA’s 2014 financial report, sponsorship raked in $413m during the 2014 world cup alone. From 2011-2014, the organization’s top six global partners paid in about $30m annually.
Although these top-tier sponsors are still stuck with the body in the midst of the scandals, negative perception and public pressure are having an effect on them. Visa put out a statement promising to “reassess its sponsorship” if the issues facing the organization are not addressed. Another longtime sponsor Adidas, which has been supplying FIFA with balls since 1970 said it was “deeply concerned”. McDonalds equally expressed ethical concerns.
These organizations are not only facing backlash from the ongoing corruption heightened by the recent U.S justice indictments of FIFA officials, but also from labor organizations which are protesting inhumane treatment of migrant laborers in Qatar. The website bored panda which is leading the protest for the sponsors to pull out of the 2022 tournament in Qatar calls the treatment of laborers mostly from South East Asia, slavery. So far about 900 workers have lost their lives during construction of the game’s infrastructure, and likely to rise to about 4,000 before the official start of the tournament in 2022.The treatment involves amongst others, the confiscation of passports, following bad contracts. The pressure on the sponsors include amongst others anti-advertisement drawings featuring the various sponsors.
Though these brands find their reputations sullied in the FIFA mess, the organization’s power and opportunities are unrivalled. The world cup provides these multinationals a rare access to millions of households around the world, with less regulation of their activities. FIFA equally has legal binding contracts with these companies, some with no “moral clauses”. There are thus risks of hefty fines. There are also other legitimate fears by these companies of their rivals filling in the vacuum in case they toss their contracts with FIFA. Speaking to the BBC, brand expert Anastasia Kourovskaia, of Millward Brown Agency says the companies apart from differentiating and maintaining their distance from FIFA, also have to stress their support for the pleasure of the game rather than FIFA as an organization. For now the companies just have to appear doing the right thing while hoping the scandal creeps away from the headlines.
The 47 allegations against FIFA by the FBI this week span more than 25 years and include about $147.5m in kickbacks. Nine FIFA officials excluding Sepp Blatter and 5 marketing executives are involved.Mr. Blatter resigned today June 02, 2015. after 17 years as president.He was re-elected on May 29,2015. He has called for new election.