Seven senior FIFA officials were arrested on Wednesday at a high end Swiss Hotel as part of a larger two decades long investigation by the FBI into corruption at FIFA. The alleged wrongdoings include racketeering, wire fraud and bribery to the tune of more than $150 million.
The arrests occurred just prior to FIFA’s presidential election, in which current president Sepp Blatter was expected to be re-elected. Blatter should have known about the problems at FIFA, and only through his complacency could any wrongdoing continue to run rampant.
The Economist, Richard Branson and other high profile figures have been quick to call for a cleansing and reinvention of football’s world governing body. If Blatter was a corporate CEO then he would surely be fired for his negligence or complicity in the corruption; why should the consequences be any different just because he is the head of the world’s governing body for football?
The reason that FIFA may fail to reform (and Blatter may fail to resign) is that FIFA is a very powerful organisation.
Football is an international game and universally loved by millions of people from a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds. For many people football is more akin to a religion than a sport, and the institution at the center of the football cult is FIFA. It controls television and marketing rights to the World Cup which are worth billions of dollars, and the concentration of so much power in one organisation has led to what the concentration of too much power typically leads to, endemic bribery and corruption.
It is also unclear whether sponsors will withdraw their backing.
Sponsors pay for marketing, and the World Cup has millions of fans worldwide. The problem of course is that sponsorship dollars, coming from the likes of Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa and Hyundai, help to support and enrich a corrupt organisation.
Being associated with scandal puts the reputation of sponsors at risk, and so the more people who talk about what’s happening the more likely they will be to reassess their involvement with FIFA.