Money and football have not been far from the news over the past two weeks, with FIFA’s long-rumoured corruption finally exposed. For most people, football fans or not, it is heartening to see the crooks who lined their pockets hopefully being brought to book. The scale and audacity of the bribery is astonishing. Just take the millions supposedly sent to support football in Trinidad and Tobago that allegedly ended up in the pockets of former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner. Added together it could probably have funded multiple stadiums the size of Wembley, for a country with a similar population to Glasgow.
However, the tangled web of corruption, ongoing investigations, and the fact that current FIFA president Sepp Blatter will not officially step down until a new election is organised (taking at least four months), shows that the scandal will not be over anytime soon. And the scale of the problem is shown by Blatter allegedly receiving a standing ovation from FIFA staff after he returned to work following his resignation.
FIFA needs to rebuild its reputation, but this is not going to be easy – after all, the next two World Cups have already been awarded to Russia and Qatar making it difficult for the organisation to simply draw a line in the sand and begin the bidding process again, without upsetting the potential hosts.
So from a PR perspective, what can FIFA do to change its reputation? I’d say there are five things it needs to look at:
1. Accelerate the election
The first step is to remove Blatter from the building – and that means holding the election as quickly as possible. Until then the organisation is in limbo and cannot move forward. The election itself has to be open, transparent and clear – country football federations need to vote publically so that they can be held to account by their own media and public.
2. Bring in independent experts
The public perception is that FIFA needs root and branch reform – and that existing senior management are not the right people to do this. It needs to bring in a team of independent experts who understand governance and compliance to create a completely new structure for the organisation and everything it does. This can then be voted on by delegates at the conference, but should follow external best practice, rather than simply tweaking existing ways of doing business.
3. All senior remuneration to be transparent
MPs have to publically declare all of their outside financial interests and have a fixed salary. The same should be true of senior FIFA officials, allowing them to be scrutinised by the media and any wrongdoing brought to light. After all, the fact that ex-FIFA vice president Chuck Blazer spent nearly £4,000 per month renting a flat for his cats should have led to questions about exactly how much he was earning. Additionally, money needs to be shared more equitably – particularly with countries actually hosting the World Cup – so that it doesn’t cost them billions for little reward.
4. Bring in new blood
Footballers are idolised around the world – yet FIFA is seen as broadly being run by stuffy bureaucrats. More current and recently retired footballers need to be involved in FIFA, particularly in its initiatives to spread grassroots football around the world. In the same way that the UN uses celebrities as goodwill ambassadors, so should FIFA. This would both provide a stronger link to the game itself and highlight positive initiatives.
5. Move HQ
Switzerland is the home of many international sporting governing bodies, from cycling to the Olympic movement. But in many people’s minds it is also a country known for secretive private banks, allegedly happy to help with tax evasion. If FIFA is serious about improving global football it should move its HQ from Switzerland to somewhere more in keeping with a new, open culture. It could follow the lead of the UN and open up in New York or be more daring and move to Africa or Asia. That would have the added advantage of helping with a fresh start, with new staff, a new office and new ways of working. Yes, it would be expensive, but FIFA has the money and it would send a strong signal to the world.
Rebuilding FIFA’s reputation will take years, but as the International Olympic Committee has shown, strong leadership, transparency and a desire for change eventually translates into major improvements. The public relations task starts now – and is going to last for a lot longer than 90 minutes.
Given that voting rests with the 22 men of the FIFA Executive Committee, you’d think that wide-scale marketing doesn’t have a large part to play in bid success or failure. But aside from glad-handing the FIFA dignitaries on a one-to-one basis, building a long-term marketing campaign that reflects brand values is going to be essential to the winner.
Witness the incredible effort that has gone into the digital side of the England bid. Designed to provide an opportunity for fans around the world to show their support and interact with the bid, it is integral to the bid premise “England United, the World Invited”. I’d say the stats alone show it has done an amazing job – over 300,000 fans from 170 countries have joined its Facebook group, 2.2 million have registered their support and 6,000 follow the bid on Twitter. And that’s ignoring the downloadable iPhone app, wallpapers, YouTube channel et al.
It really delivers on the key aim of showing FIFA the depth of support for England’s bid both at home and around the world. Let’s hope that at 3pm today, all England’s efforts, on- and offline, will be rewarded…………
- World Cup 2018 and 2022 decision day – live! | Paul Doyle and Steve Busfield (guardian.co.uk)
- England ‘will host first-class Cup’ (mirror.co.uk)
- Prince William to make final plea to Fifa executives in bid for 2018 World Cup (dailymail.co.uk)