The ‘beautiful game’ is free-falling through the ugly tree and hitting every branch.
Global football is witnessing another slow painful eruption, but this could yet be an big extinction level event for many that has been developing, and well overdue, for decades. Football is by no means isolated as an industry dealing with chunky brown paper envelopes, side deals, special gifts, and clandestine meetings to seal contracts, but FIFA alone, as the governing body for the most popular sport in the world appears uniquely arrogant at its pinnacle.
The not-so-surprising but sad and comical continuance of Sepp Blatter’s well matured hubris has much to answer for and hopefully this can still be the beginning of his end, like the indulgently repeated encore of an unwanted unaware ageing opera singer. I’m increasingly feeling that Mr Blatter is more naive than Machiavellian and it his lack of ability to effectively lead more than any inherent greed, but then again he maybe better at poker than football.
Back in the good and very old days of cannon-ball heavy leather footballs and grass if you were lucky pitches football was predominantly a working class sport, enjoyed for its simplicity, camaraderie and escapism often from the humdrum of tough industrial era life.
Around the time of the arrival and proliferation of colour television the business world was also enjoying a boom in globalisation as modern technology connected us all more than ever before. The marketing departments of these businesses began to realise that football was a very global game with a huge audience of potential customers that could be reached through the wonders of the sport, especially the World Cup and other regional tournaments.
This is when football began to evolve away from the grass-roots it still professes to continually support, but the gulf widens between the financial elite and the rest of the playing community, as has its global regulator FIFA.
The football we are shown through the media (don’t forget is merely the tip of a participatory iceberg) became ALL about the money, and when the money (i.e. sponsor’s brands) get stung beyond the value of return on their investments they will – or should – walk, and any subsequent others will fear to tread a similar path for a long time to come.
Regardless of the internal machinations of such a politically charged organisation I find it comical, yet predictable, that the sponsors are now beginning to distance themselves from the accelerating mud-slinging. Really VISA, Coca Cola, Adidas, Gazprom, Hyundai & Kia? (have you noticed the media avoiding mentioning those last three so far?)
Are they honestly now trying to tell the world they didn’t think there was a problem after they had performed their expensive due diligence before signing each multi-million dollar deal? You took the money whilst you could and enjoyed the VIP tickets that now out price those who helped fuel the game before brands took over. To get high and mighty now just compounds any lack of leadership or integration into genuinely robust CSR / sustainability dominated business cultures.
Let’s wait for the words to subside and the actions to present themselves.
VISA to their credit (pun intended – apologies) was one of the first out of the blocks with its statement, which was predictable as they took the early crisis public relations defence, but when will those who effectively payroll the ivory-towered lunatics, take public responsibility and enforce their much professed values? These huge and powerful brands can easily exert more influence but choose not to.
I’ve had many conversations both in my distant professional football past, and a couple much more recently with those involved with similar brands, and the story is always the same and has never changed. When the talk comes to sponsorship and the big media dominated sports, community engagement never mind wider ethics is seldom a key contract clause, or even mentioned.
This recent post in the Washington Times has some great images and video, with one in particular presenting the huge disparity in construction related deaths for World Cup competitions across the globe. Qatar sadly leads the worker deaths statistics by a substantial margin already.
It’s also worth taking a look at the so-called legacy of the most recent World Cup in Brazil where FIFA knowingly allowed a country to waste huge amounts of money on unrealistic stadia that now stand empty as shrines to spectacular infrastructure stupidity, but that’s OK because the sponsors sold more stuff at the time and we’ve all moved on.
Let’s also not forget that some of those at FIFA have a responsibility beyond World Cup events themselves and the superficial culture they have not only allowed to become pervasive but cultivated for their own means. Check out this recent FIFA related CNN Money story connecting Nike’s dealings in sponsoring World Cup teams. Not FIFA’s remit specifically but an indicator of how the carnival works every single day folks.
There is another way. Some brands have attempted to circumnavigate sponsorship demands with grass-roots sports, with some successes, but many of those did so because they could not afford the big dollar price tags. I’m talking about the big brands changing tack with a long-term big budget intelligent and creative injection into the fabric of the game, by those in a position to leverage their financial influence for social good. There are quick collaborative wins out there that are just overlooked in the rush for the limelight and prawn sandwiches.
Sponsors of FIFA now have an opportunity to diplomatically take a stand for football and themselves by consequence. To pontificate through predictable statements and carry on regardless will damage the brands of those espousing leadership on any ethical level. The rule of being part of the machine to effect change is valid, but when you are paying to play you can always come back when the organisation deserves it and actually aligns your real brand identity.
Who will be the first to differentiate through authentic integrity in football? How about a One World World Cup by VISA or a Climate World Cup by Gazprom to stir the imagination?
Jerry Maguire is a great if frighteningly accurate at times film and I’m sure that many at FIFA have regularly enjoyed the ‘Show me the money’ scene. Mr Blatter and friends may actually, eventually be red-carded this time around, but what, or more importantly who comes next for FIFA? I’ll try not to get caught up in the unfolding soap opera but it’s like watching your favourite car crash into a wall in slow motion.
I was thinking of running a competition for an alternative version of FIFA but spent too long trying not to swear:
Farce In Football Amplified?
Flailing Inept Fail Again?
Forget Integrity Find ATMs?
Sepp Blatter may have kept his crown for now, but that doesn’t mean he will last. He is at the very least guilty of negligence and not fit to remain as guardian of a global sport.
Will the beautiful game ever get its good looks back?
UPDATE: After a whole three and a half hours after posting this Sepp Blatter mysteriously resigns!!!!! I’m not saying these things are connected but…
photo by Biscione