Tag Archives: Fifa

NIKE: IN CRISIS, OR GETTING STRONGER? OR BOTH?

Justin Gatlin-Men's 100m Final-London 2012 Olympics

Q: Wearing any Nike clothes?

A: Eh? No, I don’t think so. Oh, wait a minute: I’ve got some Nike socks on – I’ve just been for a run. I imagine everybody reading this is either wearing something with the “Swoosh” logo on it, and, if they haven’t, they’re bound to own something from Nike. It’s one of the most ubiquitous and most profitable brands in the world. Forbes rated Nike’s brand value at an incredible $15.9 billion and, only last month, Nike reported $7.46 billion in revenue for the previous three months alone. Why do you ask?

Q: Because I notice Nike has been drawn into two scandals over the past week: Alberto Salazar was the subject of a BBC Panorama investigation into doping and his training base is at the Nike Oregon Project in the USA, where Mo Farah, among others, trains; and Nike has been implicated in the Fifa scandal – according to the American US Department of Justice’s indictment filed against 14 Fifa officials and marketing executives, in 1996, “Company A,” which is now widely accepted to be Nike, agreed to pay $40m in “marketing fees” to the Swiss bank account of an affiliate of Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic “on top of the $160m it was obligated to pay”, apparently to secure the sponsorship of the Brazilian football team. Traffic billed the company for an additional $30m in fees between 1996 and 1999, according to the indictment.

A: I can’t think of another global brand that has courted controversy quite so often as Nike and yet still emerged, not just intact, but actually stronger. In marketing terms, the company is living testimony to Nietzsche’s dictum, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Just think about the previous scandals in which Nike has been involved courtesy of the athletes with whom it held contracts.

  • 1992: Eric Cantona was banned by England’s FA after his infamous kung-fu kick on a fan.
  • 1997: Mary Decker-Slaney was banned from competition after an irregular doping test result, which she explained as the result of her taking birth control pills.
  • 2003: The NBA star Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman, who eventually dropped her case.
  • 2006-2010: Sprinter Justin Gatlin (pictured above, right) served two suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)
  • 2007: Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback was jailed after being involved in a dog-fighting ring.
  • 2009: Tiger Woods’ “transgression” led to several other companies dropping him. Nike’s ten-year contract with Woods is worth $124 million.
  • 2012: Lance Armstrong had been associated with Nike since 2006 and had insisted he hadn’t used PEDs.
  • 2014: Disabled runner Oscar Pistorius was convicted of shooting dead his girlfriend.

Nike stood by all but Armstrong and even then stated, “it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him.” His contract was valued at over $7 million per year. In the other cases, Nike has ridden out the storm and suffered no obvious collateral damage. So my guess is that it will distance itself from the Salazar case for the time being and, if the situation demands it, reiterate its stance on doping and remind everyone that its training facility in Oregon is not a panopticon i.e. a structure in which everyone can be observed at all time.

Q: But the Fifa scandal is a different matter, right?

A: Yes, I think so. But remember how Nike managed to navigate its way through the sweatshop controversy. “Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime, and arbitrary abuse.” Who said this? A protester at a G20 summit? Someone from the North Korea Confederation of Trade Unions? Unicef? Actually, it was Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. In 1998, faced with the uncomfortable reality that Nike, despite its position in the market and its reputation as a global brand, was being embarrassed by constant revelations about its treatment of workers across the world. Nike employed nearly 800,000 workers in 52 countries. Ninety-eight percent of its shoes were, at the time, produced in four countries: China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. For a long time Nike  it had to defend itself against criticism of its apparent exploitative workplace practices in the emerging world. Nike’s business model is based on outsourcing its manufacturing, and using the money it saves on aggressive marketing campaigns. Nike put its hands up: as Knight’s admission indicates, the corporation was prepared to concede that its early efforts of setting codes of conduct and monitoring compliance didn’t end the abuses across its factories that produced its goods. It needed more comprehensive action. Perhaps more importantly, people believed Knight when he said he was going to pursue this kind of action, augmenting efforts to improve labor conditions with environmental programs.  So it advertised that it was monitoring its outsourcing labour practices and rectifying them and, basically, advertised its way out of trouble. That’s what it does so brilliantly: advertise in a way that persuades consumers that, by buying Nike products, they are involving themselves with a brand that is basically … well, cool.

Q: All the same, the company is going to be hard-pressed to extricate itself from the Fifa scandal, isn’t it?

A: Hard-pressed, maybe. But it’s not beyond Nike to turn a negative into a positive. Think how all the previous scandals have involved or seemed to involve some kind of wrongdoing. Nike can appeal to what we might call unstated sensibilities. For example, people might publicly decry maverick figures, rebels or rule-breakers, but they might also secretly admire them for having the audacity to flout authority. So I think Nike’s cunning advertising creates a way in which consumers can identify with rule-breakers but without openly acknowledging it.

Q: And the Fifa case?

A: The corporation has claimed the overpayments were not bribes or kickbacks and pointed out that the indictment does “not allege that Nike engaged in criminal conduct” or that “any Nike employee was aware of or knowingly participated in any bribery or kickback scheme.” And I have no doubt it will maintain this throughout the coming weeks. As long it remains a peripheral presence in the scandal, it continues to thrive. Like all scandals, there are personal focuses, like Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner and Chuck Blatter. While these are portrayed as pantomime villains, no one will think too much about the more abstract Nike brand. Compare this with another example of potential brand damage: Alton Towers is going to have to work hard to rehabilitate its brand after last week’s crash. Consumers will experience the impact of the event by imagining, “there but for the grace of god …” and this may affect the way they think and respond to the Alton Towers brand. But no one is going to think if they buy a new Nike top or a pair of trainers that they’re suddenly complicit in an attempt to undermine the integrity of a sport they like, or even love. The associations are not immediate. As I argued earlier, Nike’s ability to weather storms is based on its credibility and its preparedness to own up to its own sins and meet the challenge set by the consumer market. My guess is that Nike will emerge unscathed, its position as the world’s market leader in sportswear unchanged.

 

 

 

WHY DOES THE REST OF THE WORLD LIKE SEPP BLATTER (WHILE MOST EUROPEANS HATE HIM)?

Joseph Sepp Blatter

Q: Let’s cut straight to the chase: will the World Cups take place in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022?

A: Yes and possibly: it’s too late to change Russia, but the current investigation into Fifa will probably lead to revelations about how the bidding process for the World Cups was flawed by corruption and bribery and this could force Fifa to change the host nation for 2022. Qatar is already an unpopular site, anyway. Head of the English Football Association Greg Dyke doesn’t think Fifa president Sepp Blatter (pictured above) will survive his next full term of office (4 years) and he’s probably suspecting the trail of the current FBI case will lead all the way back to 2010 when the results of the Fifa vote for the World Cup hosts were announced.

Q: I heard you talking on radio last week and you seemed to think the big sponsors, or Fifa’s partners as they call them, would wonder whether their own brands are likely to be tarnished by their associations with Fifa. I guess you mean the likes of Coca-Cola, Budweiser, adidas, McDonald’s and the others, right? Surely they’re big enough to survive the latest scandal.

A: No doubt about it, though Visa, one of the major sponsors, has expressed doubts about Fifa and publicly declared that it will ask the organization to account for itself. Visa and each sponsor pay roughly $30m a year to be featured on official Fifa merchandise and have their logos plastered all over the screen when the games are being played. These global brands don’t throw money at Fifa out of the goodness of their hearts: they get good value from the exposure.  If they thought they’d suffer, they’d pull their money in a heartbeat. I imagine several others besides Visa will make pronouncements over the next week or so, but they’ll probably declare that they’re holding meetings with Fifa and expecting to get assurances that the type of corruption we’ve been hearing about will be stamped out. The usual anaemic platitudes, in other words.

Q: Were you surprised Sepp Blatter retained his presidency, despite the turmoil 48-hours before the election? His credibility must have been shaken.

A: I thought this initially, but now I’m not sure. After all, he had no credibility in Western Europe anyway. In North America, he was held in suspicion, and the Aussies have mistrusted him since Fifa voted down their bid to host the 2022 World Cup — the one that was awarded to Qatar. By the way, I think Australia will go on the offensive and try to snatch the World Cup from Qatar in the future. So Blatter was never banking on the support of those nations: his friends and stalwart admirers are in Africa and Asia. He can do no wrong with these nations.

Q: You’ve hit on an interesting point here: our media has been scathing about Blatter, but elsewhere in the world they haven’t been so destructive and, as you say, he enjoys support from many other parts of the world outside western Europe, North America and Australia. Why is that?

A: One of the first terms I learned when I was a sociology undergraduate was ethnocentricity (sometimes, ethnocentrism): it means evaluating other people and cultures according to the standards of your own culture. That’s what we’ve been doing. I was listening to Greg Dyke recall how, at last week’s Fifa election, he was talking to delegates from Africa and Asia who weren’t concerned about the allegations and whether they implicated Blatter. It “didn’t worry them at all,” said Dyke, “if you get into a position of power, you take cash.” In other words, there is a more relaxed approach to casual bribery in many parts of the world. It lubricates wheels. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that we’re above this; it’s just that we take a disapproving attitude that’s not so apparent elsewhere. So Blatter isn’t seen as the unscrupulous figure he is over here.

Q: All the same, a change of leadership would’ve made a difference, wouldn’t it?

A: Would it? Again, I’m reminded of my undergrad years: one of the writers that struck a chord with me was an Italian scholar named Vilfredo Pareto (pictured below), who lived 1848-1923, and who analyzed how ruling groups, or elites, clung to their power no matter what the political regime, whether capitalist, socialist, communist or whatever. There are always cliques that rise to the top and engineer ways of staying there. He called it the Circulation of Elites. If he were around today, he’d probably conclude that, in a largscale organization like Fifa, which has reserves of about $15 billion, it really doesn’t matter who’s in charge: the people in positions of power will try to feather their own nest — make money for themselves. Even organizations committed to democratic ideals succumb to the rule of a small, self-serving elite. By the way Pareto was part of a group of scholars known as Machiavellians — after the Italian nobleman and author Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), who advised rulers that, if they wanted to hold onto power they would have to use devious methods.

Wikimedia Commons - Vilfredo pareto

Q: As usual, your cynicism guides your understanding. But what should the nations that are genuinely alienated by Blatter and want to show their disgust at the way he’s governed the football world actually do? There’s talk of a boycott. Will this help?

A: Why leave it at a boycott? If you want to get out, there’s nothing to stop national football federations pulling out of Fifa completely. If say, Germany, Italy and Holland decided to withdraw from Fifa, they would probably expect to be joined by Australia, USA, France, England and a few others. They’d only need eight nations and they could easily get one of the global media corporations, such as NBC, Disney or Fox, interested. One of them would part with $500 million or so for exclusive English language rights. And it would rip the heart out of Fifa’s World Cup. There have been breakaways in cricket, tennis and boxing; and all of those sports survived. So it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. Michel Platini, the president of Uefa (the European governing federation) is a known critic of Blatter, but we’re not sure how brave he is: he could propose a complete Uefa withdrawal from Fifa. There would be strong dissent from Russia, which hosts the 2018 World Cup, of course. Russian president Vladimir Putin is an outspoken critic of the FBI’s investigation into Fifa. Spain wouldn’t be keen on leaving Fifa either. Even so, the football world could split. The World Cup is as big as the Olympics at the moment, but that could change.

Q: One final question: is this whole affair really so bad for football?

A: No one likes to admit it, but scandals like these keep interest alive: the whole football narrative is populated by notorious characters who indulge in repugnant behaviour that turns the rest of us into moral judges. We like tut-tutting and issuing condemnation; it’s satisfying. When scandals like this make the lead stories not just for a day, but — in this case — for three straight days, we can’t escape them. How many sports can boast as many high-profile scandals as football? Historically, boxing and baseball have come close, but today football is dominant. Scandals make football the most fascinating, exciting, most pleasurable sport of them all. The least interesting aspect of football is the 90-minutes of play!

Could the World Cup be fixed?

… and what about the German fans who blacked-up? Racists?

Q: That question in the headline: you’re kidding, right?
A: Who knows? If you saw the Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme earlier this week, you’d wonder if anything in football is genuine. Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned how Fifa, the organization that runs the game, is corrupt and many of its officials have taken bribes. We also know that referees have been straightened in Europe and probably beyond. Add to this the stories involving Asian betting syndicates, players who have taken money and managers who have taken “bungs,” and you get the picture: this is not a sport where fair play rules.
Q: But surely not at the World Cup?
A: It’s devastating to think that the most prestigious tournament in the sport would be susceptible to corruption, but ask yourself how difficult it would be to do it. The team that wins the World Cup needs to play a total of six games. That means that you would need to straighten six referees. A penalty, a red card, a disallowed goal. It’s not inconceivable that a few key decisions can influence the destiny of the trophy.
Q: That’s preposterous. Referees are upright people.
A: Referee Robert Hoyzer wasn’t: in 2006, he confessed to taking bribes. He actually went to prison as a result. It’s naive to assume he is the only one. And the Italian scandal that resulted in some big clubs, including Juventus, being punished, exposed the depth and breadth of corruption in football. So even if the vast majority of referees are honorable people, it only takes a few to destroy the entire spirit of fair play.
Q: You seem to take delight in spoiling it for us football fans; I mean, you’re always putting a damper on things.I’ve been reading your new book Football’s Dark Side in which you and your co-author Jamie Cleland take apart the sport piece-by-piece and show that’s it’s corrupt, pockmarked with racism, homophobia and violence. Why?
A: Because I’m a realist: I don’t get carried away with myths and fairytales: football is a professional game and wherever there’s money, there’s corruption. That’s as sure as night follows day. If you and fellow sports fans want to believe the fantasy that sport is pure and untainted, go ahead. But I have pretty convincing evidence that that isn’t reality. I prefer truth to falsity.
Q: OK, while we’re on the subject of football, what did you make of the German football fans who blacked-up when Germany played Ghana?
A: It shows you just how behind-the-curve some nations are. For some reason, these white fans thought they were being amusing by blacking their faces like the old minstrels. Maybe they didn’t understand how crude, insulting, offensive, abusive, objectionable and provocative their behaviour truly was. I know we always see fans ribbing each other and this is part of the cut-and-thrust of football; but this wasn’t amusing; it just caused other people, particularly black people, to feel resentful, annoyed and justifiably upset.
Q: Oh, you’re taking this too seriously.
A: If you think that, ask yourself: what’s funny about it? I doubt if any of the African nations, their players or fans, thought this was anything but an insult.@elliscashmore

 

Sponsors care about Fifa’s corruption. Do fans?

FOOTBALL IS MORE ADDICTION THAN ATTRACTION

Qatar 2022: Fifa partner Sony call on governing body to investigate World Cup corruption claims

Q: Sony is demanding that Fifa “appropriately investigate” the corruption claims that have been flying about lately. What authority has Sony got?
A: The authority that comes when you pump $305 million per year into football, that’s about £182 million, enough to buy a pretty decent Premier League club, every year. So Fifa will take notice of this.
Q: I guess Fifa depends on corporations like Sony for sponsorship money then, eh?
A: And how. Coca-Cola and adidas have pumped money into Fifa for years. And more recently credit card giant Visa and Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, and Hyundai, the car manufacturer have joined them. They each sponsor Fifa. Collectively, they contribute probably close to £1 billion per year. The World Cup alone is expected to fetch Fifa $730 million, or about £445 million, in sponsorships. So Fifa will not want to get on their wrong side.
Q: But the sponsors have made noises before, haven’t they?
A: Yes. In 2011 when Fifa was in the middle of another corruption scandal, Visa said: “The current situation is clearly not good for the game and we ask that Fifa take all necessary steps to resolve the concerns that have been raised.” Coca-Cola, the single biggest sponsor, released a statement: “We have every expectation that Fifa will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.” That was three years ago, remember. So they must be thinking Fifa have not just failed to resolve the matter, but have become involved into an arguably more serious episode — this one, as we know concerning the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. There could come a point at which the likes of adidas and Hyundai ask themselves: “Are we doing the image of the company any good by associating ourselves with a sport that is tainted?
Q: I suppose so, but, so far, only Sony has spoken up and the electronics giant hasn’t threatened to pull its money, has it?
A: No. That’s because Sony, Coca-Cola and the others are confident football is so incredibly popular that, by the time the World Cup is over, everyone will be feeling so jubilant that they’ll have forgotten about how dirty Fifa is.
Q: Are they right?
A: I suspect they are: Fifa has a habit of riding out these scandals and stay in tact. The reason is simple: fans don’t much care.
Q: You’re kidding, right? Fans surely care that the game they love is riddled with corruption, bribery, matchfixing, bungs and all sorts of other skulduggery.
A: Well, they know association football is endemically bent. But I’m not sure they care that much. I mean, once the big games start on Thursday, this crisis will vanish and all the fans will care about is the tournament. Tom Peck, of the Independent, wrote a biting story the other day, in which he suggested: “When the whistle finally blows in Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo on Thursday night, a football-addicted planet will get its first sweet quadrennial pull on the World Cup crack pipe and all will be right again.” And I think he’s right. I’m not sure his conclusion is accurate: “It is this addiction that hides from the football fan the extraordinary truth.” Fans know the truth; they just don’t care that much.
Q: That’s a bit of a compliment with a criticism inside it, isn’t it?
A: Let’s put it this way: fans are clued-up, they know about the politics of the sport; but they also realize that, in practical terms, there isn’t much they can do about it.
Q: But, as we both know, there is.
A: I see what you’re getting at. Imagine if football fans decided to boycott, say, Budweiser beer, McDonalds, or Johnson & Johnson products. They’re all sponsors and stand to benefit from football’s greatest tournament. They could force change in the way in which the global game is run. Sony is probably aware of the potential impact of negative publicity and that’s why it’s put out this statement. Remember: some sponsors are quick to sever links with athletes who are convicted of doping offences: they think their brand will suffer by association. Others just ride out the storm, assuming sports fans are just not motivated enough to put their convictions into action. Are they really going to stop buying adidas gear or scissor their Visa cards?
Q: I’m asking the questions … are they?
A: No. I’m afraid I agree with Peck: football is more of an addiction than an attraction. I hate to say it, but I think this scandal will have been forgotten by the time the whistle blows to end England’s first game. All the same you have to wonder if anyone benefits from all this. I bet Nike, Pepsi, Toshiba, Burger King and the other rivals of Fifa’s main sponsors are having a quiet laugh. Nike, in particular, has opted to capitalize on the World Cup and other Fifa tournaments with ambush marketing and sponsoring national teams, like Brazil’s. But, as Nike has no direct link to Fifa, it won’t incur collateral damage. The others’ reputations are vulnerable.

Is it time for football to dump Fifa?

Fifa is an organization run by self-serving individuals with little interest in the health of the sport and an overpowering motivation to satisfy their own avarice, say fans


World Cup: FIFA in spotlight at first conference since corruption claims

The latest scandal to engulf Fifa is the most damaging in a long series of calamities that has underlined what most people already knew: that this is the most corrupt, venal, amoral, unprincipled sports organization in the world, staffed by mendacious, self-serving officers who prioritize their personal interests over those of the most popular game in the world – a game they are meant to govern with integrity.

Should we be surprised? Only if we are pathologically gullible. Fans are certainly not. My recently published book, with Jamie Cleland, Football’s Dark Side collects the views of over 10,000 fans on a variety of football related subjects, particularly corruption and bribery in the sport. Their conclusion is “Fifa is an organization run by self-serving individuals with little interest in the health of the sport and an overpowering motivation to satisfy their own avarice.”
With this in mind, fans have little hope that Fifa can ever reform. Is it beyond redemption? The timing of the latest leak could not be more damaging for Fifa, coming as it does barely a week before the opening of arguably the most prestigious tournament this side of the summer Olympic Games.
Illicit payments and underhand accounting involving present and former Fifa officials have now become commonplace. Fans have practically accepted that men they despise run the sport they love. But the latest vote-rigging story is breathtaking. Think about it: if true, it means that the destination of the World Cup is decided by a group of people, many of whom weigh up the alternatives purely by asking one question: “What’s in it for me?”
Everyone in and out of football knows that Qatar is wholly inadequate for staging a tournament such as the World Cup, no matter what time of the year. Russia too is woefully inappropriate in the light of its antigay legislation, which sits oddly and contradictorily with Fifa’s own equalities policies. Evaluated objectively and with a rational mind, neither bid would have progressed any further than the first round.
Now Fifa faces the prospect of re-voting. The likelihood of this happening is, actually, remote. After all Fifa is not subject to any overarching judicial panel or answerable to any other organization: it is a self-perpetuating club and can, if it wishes, ignore the scandal. Fifa’s President Sepp Blatter is well versed in the art of scandal management: he has navigated his way through many calamities over the years and emerged with his reputation in ruins, but his power base intact.
But this time is slightly different: he faces the probability that Fifa itself is shown to unequivocally corrupt. Even in the administration of its most prized tournament, it has abandoned integrity and awarded the tournament to the country that has greased most palms.
Of course the official report will not be published for about seven months and we should remind ourselves that we are dealing with leaked information. As such this information is still conditional. But the likelihood is that the leak is reliable and that Fifa will have to respond quickly. Resignations, forced or voluntary, are most probable. Blatter himself could theoretically order another vote. But what rational voter would change? It would almost be an admission of guilt. Chances are the voting would still yield the same result.
One thing is certain: Fifa is not, to use a phrase of today, fit for purpose. Other sports have created new governing organizations either to replace or as alternatives to existing regulators and this is possible. But the omens are not good: think about boxing, which now has several competing governors, all with their own champions. Tennis too has threatened to splinter at some points in history. Frankly, any organization that rose up in the wake of the latest scandal would be welcomed. But corruption follows money with the same inevitability as night follows day. It would be naïve in the extreme to imagine any organization charged with the responsibility of governing a major professional sport in which revenues are measured in billions will remain pure for long.

Have Fifa and Qatar done the rest a favour?

Qatar World Cup 2022 ‘revote’: Now Australia’s bid could face ethics investigators as Fifa rocked by corruption allegationsShould it go ahead the proposed World Cup will cost Qatar more than US$200 billion. Read it again: $200 billion, that’s £120 billion, or 147 billion euros. This by far eclipses the record-busting $57 billion Russia spent on the recent Sochi Winter Olympics. Even allowing for the fact that Qatar’s climate and its lack of football stadiums means additional spending, a World Cup tournament would cost any successful bidder about the same as the total trade between China and Africa for 2014.There is a widespread myth that global tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympic Games are valuable to a nation. Correction: they are valuable to strategically placed people who stand to profit either in terms of personal prestige (like Lord Coe) or from the political uplift (David Cameron et al.) and the heads of corporations, including construction companies, hotel chains and, of course, the media organizations that carry the events.But since 1976, when Montreal hosted the Olympics – and incurred a debt that took 30 years to pay off – global sports tournaments have hurt rather than helped the economies of host nations. Athens, for example, went broke shortly after the 2004 Olympics and needed the scale back dramatically spending on hospitals, schools and roads.The London Olympics cost … well, actually no one knows for certain, probably not even Lord Coe; but the most recent estimates suggest about £9 billion – an appreciable amount, but still only 4.5% of the 2022 World Cup. Host nations can’t possibly get close to breaking even and, even if sports fans argue there are intangible benefits, such as national pride, export boosts, infrastructural improvements and that old saw the “feelgood factor,” the price is often ruinously high. Add to this the security issues typically associated with high-profile events such as World Cups and you begin to understand why the negatives far outweigh the positives.So maybe the Aussies, Americans and English should be thankful that they were the victims of what now appears to have been a seriously flawed and apparently corrupt bidding process. Sometimes a cynic like me is forced to wonder if there is divine retribution.