When is a crisis not really a crisis? The answer is simple, according to the president of FIFA, the world governing body of professional football. FIFA has been embroiled in a scandal of alleged bribery and corruption for months with no end in sight.
In an ill-tempered press conference yesterday, FIFA president Sepp Blatter – standing for re-election this week in a farcical-looking exercise where he is now the only candidate – insists that FIFA is not in crisis, despite the "great damage" done to its image by ongoing corruption allegations, according to a BBC report.
[...] "Football is not in a crisis, only some difficulties," said the Fifa president. Blatter brushed off suggestions, from the British government among others, that Wednesday’s presidential election – for which he is the only candidate – should be suspended. "If governments try to intervene then something is wrong," he said. "I think Fifa is strong enough that we can deal with our problems inside Fifa."
As the FT reports, FIFA’s sponsors aren’t so sanguine.
[...] Coca-Cola, a World Cup sponsor, said: “The allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport. We have every expectation that Fifa will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.”
Adidas has already voiced its concern, saying the negative publicity was “neither good for football nor for Fifa and its partners”.
The BBC has additional comments by Adidas:
[...] "Adidas enjoys a long-term, close and successful partnership with Fifa that we are looking forward to continuing. Adidas will be an official sponsor of Fifa World Cup 2014 in Brazil."
"Having said that, the negative tenor of the public debate around Fifa at the moment is neither good for football nor for Fifa and its partners."
When your sponsors start worrying in public, it seems to me that continuing to dismissively-insist that you’re having only a few "difficulties" is an act of reality-denial.
Unless someone makes a swift course correction – it may be too late for that, though – I’m watching for the impending car crash. Perhaps out of the wreckage something will emerge that is actually good for football.
[Update @ 12.45pm] The FT reports:
A third World Cup sponsor has publicly voiced concern at the crisis in Fifa, as England’s Football Association added to pressure on the sport’s governing body by calling for the postponement of Wednesday’s presidential election.
Emirates Airlines said it was “disappointed with the issues that are currently surrounding the administration of the sport”.
Things could be coming to a head (of some kind) as the FIFA presidential election is on June 1. That’s tomorrow.
[Update June 4] If you’ve been following this story, you’ll know that Sepp Blatter was re-elected as FIFA president on June 1.
Of all the many comments and opinions I’ve read about that, a leader in this week’s Economist assesses this crisis well, pulling no punches in its condemnation of a rotten organization. Its photo is worth much more than a thousand words.
The Economist offers a suggestion for two groups of people who could bring about change:
[...] Swiss parliamentarians could end the Zurich-based organisation’s favourable tax treatment. They should do so unless it cleans itself up. Then there are the commercial sponsors, who pay a big chunk of FIFA’s bills. They have shown steel before: after the Salt Lake City bidding scandal, the sponsors forced the International Olympic Committee to become more transparent. They should do so again, this time to get rid of Mr Blatter. Football deserves better than him.
Amen to that.