How Brands Like Coca-Cola Can Cure FIFA Of Corruption

As undemocratic dictatorships go, Sepp Blatter’s FIFA is pretty much the perfect model. Yes, North Korea has a formidable set-up but it lacks the financial clout of the Swiss. And I suppose Isis is trying hard to be the planet’s most feared organisation but, faced with an increasing number of foes, they’re unlikely to win the war.

What makes Blatter more powerful than either Kim Jong-un or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is his love of money, in particular the extraordinarily close friendships he has built with the world’s biggest brands. These are some of the global brands associated with the most recent World Cup – Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates, Hyundai-Kia, Sony, Visa, Anheuser-Busch, Castrol, Continental, McDonald’s, Johnson & Johnson, Marfrig, Yingli Solar and Oi.

The bidding will soon begin for those wanting to sponsor the 2018 and 2022 World Cups because, according to FIFA marketing director Thierry Weil: ‘Without the support of our sponsors, events such as the FIFA World Cup would simply not be possible.’

And therein lies the opportunity of a lifetime. Not, as you may think, to be part of the greatest tournament in the world – but to not be part of it.

Money is the only thing the Zurich-based institution cares more about than football – and that’s debatable actually. Money – as so many other Swiss institutions are keenly aware – is key to everything.

So why would any of the above brands really want to invest in an institution riddled with corruption? I don’t even have to use the word allegedly in that sentence anymore. It is corruptible and corrupted. Its members have been convicted of corruption, its investigating lawyer believes it is corrupting his own report into their behaviour, its process to award World Cups to host nations such as Qatar is one of the most easily corruptible processes outside of the Pyongyang local elections. If indeed there are any.

Brands hold the power to change football forever – to make it better, remove the stench, give it back the ethics and morality its so-called custodians so pathetically disregard.

Show some courage Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca-Cola, and tell FIFA to clean up its act or there’ll be no more fat cheques. Come on Kazuo Hirai, the Sony Corporation doesn’t need to associate itself with a crooked bunch of suits. And as for you Charles Scharf, you’ve already shown great leadership at Visa by cutting off deals with Russian banks over US sanctions, so take action over an equally untrustworthy gang.

Brands can effect change if they work together. This year, sponsors of the NFL, upset about its lenient attitude to players convicted of violent off-field incidents, threatened to pull out and immediately NFL bosses changed their rules. Zoopla pulled its money out of West Bromwich Albion football club after it failed to condemn one of its players, Nicolas Anelka, for making a controversial anti-Semitic gesture – and the player was let go. VirginAmerica and others ended their sponsorship of the LA Clippers after the basketball team’s owner Donald Sterling spouted vile racist abuse, thus forcing him to sell his beloved club.

A few days ago, Emirates did the decent thing and announced it is ending its relationship with FIFA. The problem is, however, if just one sponsor does it, it means nothing. And the Emirates move really does mean nothing because the Middle Eastern airline is being replaced by Qatar Airways, owned by the nation that allegedly bought the 2022 World Cup.

The world’s biggest brands should all pull out of their relationships with FIFA at the same time, complete with the knowledge that every single football fan – and pretty much every other consumer too – will hail them as heroes. Let their competitors take their place, let them spend billions propping up one of the world’s most loathed institutions and face the opprobrium of customers whose sense of right and wrong will have been heightened by a mass walk-out.

Be brave brands and side with your customers, not your discredited dictators.

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