FIFA's Fraud Fever: Any Far-Reaching Treatment?

By Lukmon Oloyede.

While building a brand requires proper planning, distinctiveness and efficiency, maintaining a brand reputation is a process that requires much more. The reputation of a business is essential to its survival. The trust and confidence of the consumer can have a direct and profound effect on a brand’s bottom line. Organizations with better reputations generate more loyalists and easily gain support from governments, international bodies and other stakeholders in times of need. Many top brands understand this so they don’t play games with their reputation.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is the World’s biggest sport body that so many global brands jostle to align with. Football is one of the most popular sports on the planet, with millions people as followers and die-hard fans. This has made its marriage to brands a romantic one over the years. But now things are sinking. No thanks to that giant headed monstercorruption. For years, many things in FIFA have been shrouded in mystery. From the bid process (one of the major issues in the current scandal) to the extremely complicated ranking systems, FIFA has chosen to keep the sporting world entirely in the dark on how it arrives at critical decisions.

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On May 27th 2015, FIFA’s world was turned upside down when Swiss police, at the behest of American prosecutors, arrested seven FIFA officials in Zurich on suspicion of receiving bribes totalling more than $100m. FIFA suffered a predictable dive in public perception; fans around the world cheered the round-up as a first step towards cleaning up the sport. Severe pressure was mounted on Sepp Blatter to resign. The stubborn septuagenarian went ahead to contest for a fifth time as FIFA President and won. Surprisingly, barely four days into his new tenure he has announced that he was resigning – to the delight of many stakeholders.

So what was behind the sudden change of mind? Analysts have identified a combination of two major factors. Principal among them is FIFA’s sponsors. FIFA were dealt a blow late last year when Sony and Emirates Airlines announced they were ending their relationship following allegations that Qatar had used some questionable means to win the 2022 World Cup. Indeed Visa, Adidas and Sony issued warnings on the eve of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil after strings of bribery and corruption allegations but it was only Sony that withdrew its sponsorship. Visa’s contract will run until 2022. Sony’s contract was worth an estimated $280m (£183m) over eight years, and Emirates is believed to have paid £118.3m over eight years. Emirates decided not to renew its deal beyond 2014 because the terms on offer “did not meet expectations”.

Second-tier World Cup sponsors, including Budweiser and McDonalds, pay FIFA between £6.5m and £16m a year. Also, second-tier sponsors: Castrol, Johnson & Johnson and Continental Tyres have all abandoned the governing body since January 2015.

In recent times, almost all FIFA’s major sponsors have expressed some discourssion with the governing body, with the notable exception of Gazprom, a Russian energy giant who is a sponsor for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Their anxieties are understandable. The main reason sponsors dole out millions or partner with other bodies is to build their brand equity, not to have their reputation tarnished. Brand Finance, a UK-based intellectual property management company argues that these big sponsors could lose up to $1bn (£653m) in value due to the reputational damage of being associated with FIFA. Some sponsors have critically pondered whether their current links with FIFA’s increasingly toxic brand is doing more harm than good. Stakeholders feel the cleansing in FIFA needs to go beyond the current cabalistic executives running the round leather game.

Another election to choose a new FIFA president is expected to hold in July, according to FIFA officials. The FIFA scandal according to some sport analysts should be the crossroads that the sport needs to reform itself as a reputable brand that worth investing in. Fans across the world are calling for reforms in continental soccer bodies too such as the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and CONCACAF. In Africa, the President of CAF, Issa Hayatou, who has been at the position since 1988 became the second trending topic on social media in the continent. Outcry against Hayatou has been centered on his “ageless” stay as CAF president and allegations of corruption especially as it concerns the first African World Cup in 2010 and a $10million “Payout”.

FIFA_LogoMedia reports claim the hosting right was won originally by Morocco. A Twitter user, Imam Imam, tweeted “Issa Hayatou and Blatter are one of a kind. Dictatorial, sniff of corruption around them and Life Presidents. We can do better without both.” Another user, by the name of Ryan Cooper, wrote “Can we now hope and assume that Issa Hayatou will do the honorable thing as well so African football can move forward?” Recently in April, Hayatou led the organization’s members on an opportunistic vote to remove an age limit on Confederation of African Football officials. The removal of the age limit will allow Hayatou, now 68, to seek four more years in 2017 when his current mandate will expire. Also, his administration has been rocked with several allegations of corruption just like the case of Sepp Blatter.

Even among traditional supporters Blatter is losing support. Before the FIFA presidential election, the President of the Nigeria Football Federation Amaju Pinnick had publicly voiced support for FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s fifth term bid. But in his latest statement, Pinnick has made a total U-turn. He claimed report of his previous vociferous posture for Blatter was a “misrepresentation” by a section of the media.

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This is Pinnick latest statement “Corruption has no place in the beautiful game and will not be tolerated at the NFF or anywhere in Nigerian football. I have also given that message to all coaches of the National teams in clear language. In law, a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Should Mr. Blatter be indicted or arrested, he will immediately lose our support.

Blatter has promised to make FIFA stronger and we will work with him to achieve that. The NFF will continue to do all within its powers to maintain the ethics of football administration in Nigeria and will continue to work with FIFA to protect the image of football.” However, many observers are putting the NFF under scrutiny and there is a growing interest on how the Amaju Pinnick administration can truly eradicate corruption which has bedeviled our football for many years. Despite being Nigeria’s most loved sport, the local league, many people feel, lacks transparency.

This has made many brands reluctant to sponsor the league. Can the wind of change blowing in the world of football tweak the focus of Pinnick, to ensure that stability and transparency is maintained to grow Nigeria football?

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