Putting aside the decision on the winning bid for the 2018 World Cup, FIFA, the governing body of world football has raised more questions than it has answered as a result of its big PR event in Zürich. More importantly, has its brand been tarnished further not by the media allegations before the announcement, but through the whole bidding process and its transparency (or lack of it, according to some commentators)?
I’m not a football fan (although if asked, I support Fulham) and this post is not a rant against a decision not to award England the 2018 World Cup. Far from it. It is merely an observation on a brand and its reputation. FIFA is a significant organisation with responsibility for football globally and is recognised by most people, whether footy fans or not. It’s one of those organisations that has always had an air of a private members club, almost reminiscent of the ‘old boys’ clubs found in the City with their leather clad chairs and quiet, smokey rooms.
However, yesterday’s announcement that Russia and Qatar have won the 2018 and 2022 World Cups respectively was an opportunity for the FIFA brand to dispel this. Why? Well, if as FIFA say they wanted to move football out of the West and give other regions of the world a chance to host such a premier event and benefit from the significant economic trappings a competition brings, it didn’t come across very well.
Okay, the British media was taking the England bid side and we might not have seen or heard all of the statements from FIFA about its decisions. But the perception of fans, the public, governments and others, not only the losing countries but generally throughout the world, remains the same. FIFA appears to be a secretive, closed shop. Instead, it could have come out of yesterday’s event as an organisation attempting to spread economic, sporting and other opportunities to parts of the world often neglected by such global events. Instead, it remains aloof. And yet with some simple PR steps, it could have enhanced its reputation – even slightly.
Nowhere on the FIFA web site is there a reasonable explanation for the decisions. Just the results and a quote from FIFA President, Sepp Blatter:
“I have to say thanks to the Executive Committee of FIFA because for 2018 and 2022 we go to new lands, because the FIFA World Cup has never been in eastern Europe or the Middle East. So, I’m a happy president when we speak of the development of football. But I have to give big compliments to all the bidders for the big job they have done and the messages they have delivered. All have delivered the message that football is more than just a game. Football is not only about winning; it is also a school of life where you must learn to lose, and that is not easy.”
FIFA’s policy is not to reveal who voted for the bids or provide explanations from each voting member on why they took their decision. Bearing in mind the previous media speculation, this would have been an ideal time to come out proactively and be open about the whole process. This would have led to some positive reaction from journalists and media outlets, as well as governments, stakeholders and commentators. But no, only more questions.
The whole process has simply highlighted how even a large global organisation with a mound of marketing and PR resources at its beck and call can fail. It’s unfortunate, but it remains an excellent case study to businesses and organisations, large and small, on how not to do PR and only add problems to your brand’s already under attack reputation.