Sharapova Shows Brands Have Developed Morals -- Next Stop Russian Rio Ban?

The last year or so has seen a complete swing in the moral compasses that guide brands. From a bunch of spineless corporates that were prepared to throw money at Fifa without raising any questions, we have international brands that now realise they need to be seen to do the right thing.

Right now, it's tennis in the spotlight. Maria Sharapova has had her major deals with the likes of Nike and Porsche suspended. This is surely just a delay until she is formally banned from the game for a year, maybe two. Her defence looks pretty shoddy. Someone living in America has been prescribed a drug by her family doctor that isn't approved in America and is only available via the Baltic States for conditions she is not claiming to have. She was warned about the drug, but apparently did not read the email fully. It's not looking good, is it?

Just a couple of years ago, she could have ridden the storm out. She's beautiful, talented, comes over as a grounded person and so is the most marketable female athlete on the planet, according to most research on celebrity endorsements. The fact that major brands are in a holding pattern waiting for her to be banned before they pull the trigger shows how much things have changed.

The catalyst is FIFA -- and I've said in many times, it's only because American law enforcement became involved and rounded up the grubby clique of crooks running the game that we got this far. The major global brands knew exactly what was going on. Everyone in football knew how the World Cup was selected on bribes and how merchandising and television rights were distributed to line the pockets of the people at the top rather than provide nourishment to the sport at the grassroots level. The thing is, the likes of Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Adidas, Budweiser, Sony and Visa preferred to pump money in at the top and not worry too much where it went. It was a classic case of not lifting up the carpet for fear of spotting a cockroach. 

The impact will probably be felt very soon by two unidentified Italian tennis pros who, in other news breaking today, have been linked with betting syndicates. However, as Rio 2016 rapidly approaches the truly interesting test will be whether the threats are followed up and Kenyan runners are banned. This will lead us to the mother of all questions -- Russia. Its athletic authorities have been shown to be in cahoots with the drug testers to cover up positive tests and to allow athletes to keep on doping. If anyone needs to be banned, the Olympic authorities know it has to be Russia.

The thing is, now you have brands involved. Adidas and Nestle have already walked away from the International Amateur Athletics Federation and its involvement in protecting drug cheats -- it has to be said the crazy decision to allow the World Championships to take place in Nike's home city of Oregon probably weighed heavily on Adidas' decision as well.

So as we wait for the huge decisions in international sport to be made ahead of the summer, the thing marketers need to bear in mind is that their sponsorship money brings power. More importantly, they need to realise that the public gets this and they now expect brands to act on it. As soon as a brand is promoting a drug cheat, they need to stop. As soon as they find they are pumping money in to an organisation which has stood by and let cheating and doping happen under its nose, that flood of money has to stop. 

Once again, Rio 2016 puts the likes of McDonald's, Visa and Coca-Cola front and centre. The world will be watching. 

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