TV viewers would have been forgiven for thinking they had tuned in to North Korean television last week when Blatter went to the podium to thank his congress for once again appointing him. Looking around the room, nobody wanted to be the first to stop clapping. Namely because they know it would mean hardship for their Football Association and put a black mark in the book next time it wanted to get funding for a project or put a bid in for a major tournament.
Thank goodness the FBI has ridden in to the rescue of a game that one wouldn't associate with football, or should I say "soccer" -- and done what nobody has dared do before -- knock on doors at dawn and execute arrest warrants, backed up by years of meticulous research. The Football Associations, including the original English (and Welsh) FA, has done all it can at the moment to back a rival to Blatter. But several representatives (France, you know who you are) went against their own FA's recommendation and -- no doubt through fear of the repercussions -- voted for Blatter.
So for the FAs around the world, it's time to decide whether they should form a rival to FIFA. Feelings are strong enough in Europe to allow UEFA to break away and maybe have its own tournament, in Europe, followed by the best performing teams playing the winners and runners up of other regional tournaments. The FIFA World Cup, without the FIFA bit.
It just seems so crazy, though, for anyone who has seen top executives at FTSE100 or Fortune 500 brands harp on about corporate responsibility without seeing that this means they need to pull out of the World Cup. The FBI investigation may well unearth wrongdoing that will answer the question of whether bribery was involved in Russian and/or Qatar winning their World Cup bids. However, even before then, one only has to look at Russia's sabre-rattling politics and the suppression of human rights in both Russia and Qatar to be reason enough to pull out. Throw into that the appalling treatment, and death toll, of migrant builders working on World Cup facilities in Qatar and it just seems to crazy that any brand would support the competition. A recent estimate, reported on by The Guardian, suggested that 62 "slave workers" will die for every single game played in the Qatar 2022 games. Repeat -- that is 62 deaths per game, or nearly three for every player on the pitch.
Set against Russia's activities in Ukraine, its suppression of gay rights and countless other reasons not be involved in showcasing either country at the forefront of FIFA's prized competition where players will talk about "Respect" and "Right to Play," it just seems so odd nobody has yet pulled out. If these reasons were not enough, then surely the FBI arresting key leading figures must press the button on a release clause somewhere.
Maybe the key brands are waiting to hear what happens with the FBI's investigation. My suggestion is that they don't. If they want to be seen as taking a lead, then now is the time to restore confidence in their brands. If they wait until it is proven or not proven that their funds support the biggest sporting scandal of a generation, they will be seen as looking foolish to have not known or suspected -- or even worse, potentially being seen as blindly complicit. If the organisation is exonerated, they may well think that will be the end of it. I doubt it -- they will instead be considered to be bankrolling either a whitewash or an organisation too clever at fraud to be caught.
The likelihood is, however, that the FBI would not have acted so decisively if they did not at least have some very strong evidence -- and that would suggest we are at the start of a very revealing process and key sponsors need to assess where they want to be when the revealing takes place.
Every problem is an opportunity in disguise. FIFA may allow a brand to pull out its tens of millions invested in what is widely now seen as a rotten apple and put them to good use elsewhere -- after all, in study after study people rarely know if it's Coca-Cola or Pepsi that is the official sponsor, due to both advertising so heavily around the event, and it's the same for car and beer brands.
Alternatively, one brand could play it very smart. The could say that unless Blatter goes and a cleanup is carried out within a year, to the tune of prison doors slamming, then their money is going elsewhere. One might even suggest that Blatter must go and the families of Qatari dead "slave workers" are compensated and their infrastructure plans overseen by Western experts before they commit any money.
Whatever it is, PR whispers just won't do. Bold words backed up by action are required by the guy who are pouring the juice in the FIFA's gravy train.