How Corporate America will drive the long awaited FIFA reforms

In May, FIFA was rocked by a number of arrests as American and Swiss law enforcement forces began a process which has since placed the world governing body under an intense amount of scrutiny. With the image of FIFA badly affected and the institution itself rattled enough for its leader to resign, it appears inevitable that reforms will be made but in an unlikely twist. Despite the promises made by the upper echelon at FIFA, these reforms could be driven by the corporate world as two of FIFA’s top tier corporate partners have issued statements asking FIFA to embark on major reforms or face cancellation of their sponsorship contracts.

Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, two of the world’s most iconic and leading brands have both clearly stated that given their concerns with the leadership and scandals rocking FIFA, they want to see major reforms. Considering the fact that FIFA’s issues have reflected badly on its sponsors who pay millions yearly to associate with the football body, it comes as no surprise that these brands have finally played this card.

Coca-Cola asked FIFA to take the first step towards change by supporting an independent body to drive reforms. In a statement, Coca-Cola said: “We have written to FIFA and asked them to support an independent third-party commission for reforms.”

Similarly, McDonald’s specified that FIFA must make “meaningful changes” in a bid to “restore trust and credibility with fans and sponsors”. Establishing the concern among the corporate world for the events that has occurred at FIFA in the last few weeks, McDonald’s statement insisted that “recent allegations and indictments have severely tarnished FIFA in a way that strikes at the very heart of our sponsorship.” Supporting the position of FIFA, McDonald’s added that an “independent commission is among the examples of how to address the urgent need for reform.”

The reaction from FIFA’s corporate partners is hardly a surprise as the partners have faced a barrage of damaging criticism for their association with FIFA. While the arrests of FIFA officials may have accelerated the need for FIFA’s sponsors to speak out against the football governing body, the unanswered questions over the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar has also put FIFA partners under an immense amount of pressure. While there are a plethora of issues with the World Cup bid process and the proposed changes to the global football calendar to accommodate the World Cup, the more prominent issue for civil organizations is the deplorable reality of labour laws in Qatar.

FIFA sponsors are in a difficult position as many have publicly stated that the continued support of the Qatar World Cup by these sponsors implicitly suggests that they were endorsing Qatar’s questionable labour laws with some going as far as redesigning FIFA sponsors’ logos to indicate support of slavery.

Inevitably, FIFA looks set to undergo massive changes this year as Sepp Blatter has already announced an intention to quit his post. Come next February, FIFA will be under new leadership and could undergo major reforms. In the last few years, FIFA has enjoyed a free reign as questions around its practices have gone unanswered but the new reality is that FIFA is under scrutiny not just from law enforcement but also from partners who hold the key to its continued healthy financial existence. FIFA reforms have been long discussed and then forgotten but this time, the reforms are for real.

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