The common notion when it comes to FIFA and the organization’s ever-growing list of corruption concerns is that nothing will change until the scandals start costing money. No manner of public outcry or protest seems to have made a significant impact on FIFA policy, but it appears that the time of financial consequences for the game’s governing body is approaching.
Going back to the run-up before the World Cup in Brazil, several major sponsors expressed concern over the bad press surrounding the way the tournament was organized. Several corporations hesitated to have their brands associated with an event that was such a clear burden on the host nation. In the end, sponsorships would largely carry on as planned and money was made.
Earlier this month we saw the first sign of a changing tide. FIFA lost its first relationship with an “official partner” — one of their six biggest sponsors — Emirates Airlines. The company announced that it would not renew its sponsorship deal that’s set to expire at the end of the year.
Fellow official partner Sony has also voiced concern, particularly over the findings of Michael Garcia’s investigation into the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bidding process. Sony has yet to decide if it will continue its relationship with FIFA beyond 2014. It’s worth noting that Qatar Airways and Samsung have already expressed interest in filling FIFA’s sponsorship void.
But all these seem like non-stories compared to the news that surfaced this weekend. Coca-Cola, a World Cup sponsor for four decades, is considering severing ties with Sepp Blatter and crew. A Coca-Cola spokesman, speaking with The Sunday Times, has relayed the corporations worries over how Garcia’s investigation report is being handled.
“Anything that detracts from the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup is a concern for us.
“The current conflicting perspectives regarding the investigation are disappointing. Our expectation is that this will be resolved quickly in a transparent and efficient manner.”
A German judge has ruled that the full report cannot be published, out of respect for the privacy of FIFA whistleblowers, even though claimed efforts to maintain that privacy have been botched. Coca-Cola, like fans and federations alike, have grown displeased with the secrecy surrounding the publication of Garcia’s findings and the efforts to keep the information out of the public eye.
Intense protests, scathing editorials and #BlatterOut campaigns have been raging across the globe for what now feels like several generations. They have thus-far amounted to nothing of significance. That’s because while the public — particularly the consumer public — expressing its dissatisfaction in highly visible ways is a very important and often under-utilized tool for change, real change won’t happen until FIFA sees an impact, in black and white, on quarterly statements. Civil unrest — in the context of a game — unfortunately rings hollow to an organization that can still count on billions of dollars in annual income.
Soccer, at its core, is an entertainment business. Yes, our love and fanaticism for the game borders on religion, but none of that carries into executive board rooms. The money we spend on tickets and jerseys does. TV contracts do. Corporate sponsorships — which brought FIFA an estimated $360 million from official partnerships — certainly do. It’s a bizarre and somewhat antithetical idea to look to corporations to be arbiters of justice in any form, but when it comes to FIFA becoming a fair and transparent organization, it’s fans’ only recourse.