You would have thought it was business as usual from Sepp Blatter’s rhetoric at a press conference last Saturday. After being re-elected as the president of Fifa, he avoided directly answering tough questions, vented about a US-led conspiracy and distanced himself from the allegations. What a difference five days makes.
Even by Fifa’s standards, it was an amazing response to 14 of its officials and executives being indicted on charges of racketeering and corruption and the Swiss authorities launching a probe into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively. Yet one that we’ve come to expect from not only Fifa but the world of business more generally. And Fifa is more about business than sport. Just last week, Dick Fuld, the chairman and chief executive of Lehman Brothers from 1994 until it disappeared in 2008, said he had "no regrets" over the bank’s collapse.
Businesses should heed the lesson Thomas Cook painfully learnt last month. Delaying actions can turn a bad situation into a terrible one. That it took nine years for Thomas Cook to apologise for the deaths of two children on one of its holidays is terrifying. Surely all training in crisis communications should have a compulsory module on pulling yourself out of the situation for a minute to see how things might look from the outside?
Top marks to Visa, which said it would re-examine its relationship with Fifa if the mess wasn’t sorted out
Uefa has been the most vocal critic of Blatter and Fifa so far. But even Uefa’s reforming zeal is relatively new. The Uefa president, Michel Platini, had more to say about the old regime after Blatter’s continued presence thwarted his own ambitions for the lucrative role.
The sponsors’ initial responses were disappointingly moderate. Blatter’s belated resignation changed all that.
McDonald’s, Adidas and Budweiser, which issued bland statements last week, quickly welcomed his departure. Top marks, however, go to Visa, which was the only sponsor to say it would re-examine its relationship with Fifa if the mess wasn’t sorted out (pre-departure). On Tuesday, Visa built on this, saying that his departure was a "significant first step towards rebuilding public trust" .
Unsuprisingly, Gazprom, which is majority owned by the Russian government, has so far failed to say anything at all.
It would have taken a brave sponsor to break with Fifa. But with Blatter gone, there’s a real opportunity for its partners to do some good inside the machine. Sports agencies closed ranks as the drama unfolded this week. But I hope that, behind closed doors, they are speaking to their clients about how they can effect the real change that Fifa so desperately needs.