Freed from PR considerations following yesterday’s eight-year ban from soccer, a Nelly bandaid-rocking Sepp Blatter—who presumably sports it for the same reasons the rapper did, as an homage to his recently locked-up homies—has loosened his tongue a little bit. One of his targets is the brands and their bullshit.
In light of the chaos surrounding FIFA as of late, the organization’s brand partners have made quite the public showing of how serious they are about pushing for reform. Behind their “concerns” about bribery and corruption and the like is the thinly veiled threat that if FIFA doesn’t get its act together, the brands are willing to bail. By their small tough talk, Blatter was not impressed. From the Wall Street Journal:
Sepp Blatter, the banned president of soccer’s world governing body, believes that FIFA’s American sponsors are bluffing in their repeated calls for change at the organization. While they have stopped short of direct threats to pull out, Mr. Blatter believes that day isn’t near.
“Companies, commercial partners are queuing up to get in,” Mr. Blatter said Tuesday in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “If the Americans want to leave, others will come. But they don’t want to get out...They won’t leave.”
You know it’s bad when even Sepp Blatter doesn’t believe your bullshit.
It’s been evident for ages now the largest constituents propping up the obviously corrupt FIFA were the brands. These companies were perfectly fine sitting idly by, seeing their logos plastered on every World Cup poster and media scrum backdrop and on-field ad board, with nary a care about how their friendly relationship with FIFA, say, directly supported slavery.
But when the larger public finally took issue with a Qatar World Cup whose infrastructure was to be built on the backs of slaves, and with the near-daily news stories on batch after batch of criminal arrests and allegations of impropriety at the highest levels, then the brands felt emboldened to speak up. It was only after the public perception of Blatter and FIFA became so toxic that they decided to act—first by issuing mealy-mouthed “Sepp, buddy, you’re making us look bad, so stop doing that, please!” statements, then, after realizing that the tipping point had passed, by almost certainly banding together to approach him privately and pressuring him to resign. And it wasn’t even until Blatter announced his pseudo-resignation when they started calling for his job publicly.
This kind of hypocrisy, of selective morality based on public opinion polls, has apparently irked Blatter. He knew, as did the FIFA ethics committee he created that suspended him yesterday, that his position had finally become untenable. Still, he apparently didn’t like these brands patting themselves on the back so hard. By calling them out now, he’s showing them that while he was willing to go along their game when he was a prominent player, now that he’s out he wants everyone to know the whole thing was, after all, only a game.
The brands’ responses were telling. McDonald’s flexed their muscles in the subtlest way, hinting at their role in the takedown of Blatter without owning up to it directly:
“Mr. Blatter’s comments do not reflect the gravity of the situation for FIFA and we previously called for him to step down,” a McDonald’s spokeswoman said. “FIFA must now urgently implement robust and meaningful reforms with appropriate independent oversight.”
Adidas preferred to remain in the background:
Herbert Hainer, the chief executive of Adidas AG which has been a FIFA partner for more than 40 years, told the German publication Handelsblatt that his company “can’t be held responsible for the criminal wheeling and dealing of FIFA officials” but said he believed the soccer governing body was on its way to reform. An Adidas spokeswoman Tuesday said the company’s position hadn’t changed.
So the brands don’t want to be held responsible for what FIFA does, but will happily take credit for any positive reforms. Sepp’s message is pretty clear: the brands will let FIFA do what it wants, up until it commits the fatal crime of making them look bad. It’s a little weird, agreeing with Blatter on something.
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