With more member nations than the UN, FIFA is a thoroughly international organization, one that requires a language in which to communicate. Some might assume that language would be English or French — perhaps Spanish, Portuguese or German if based on the languages of soccer prowess — but FIFA speaks in a far more basic language, money. And that language is why Sepp Blatter is finally being forced out.
Don’t mistake any of the grandstanding or outrage in the next few days, weeks and months as any sign of rediscovered ethics for the organization or any associated with it. Blatter’s indulgence of corruption (likely mirrored by fellow new exile Michel Platini) has nothing to do with his ouster. And don’t expect major changes to come once he’s gone. The only reason for his new suspension is he became too much associated with ugly decisions, and that makes for bad branding.
Coca-Cola and McDonald’s don’t do bad branding. And they are the ones who demanded this. Last week, both companies announced a desire to see Blatter exit before the emergency FIFA election that for some reason is taking more than half a year to happen. Blatter refused to cave to FIFA’s sponsors, but the sponsors are the only thing more powerful than him in international soccer.
This is about optics, not ethics. That is easy enough to judge by how little major players in the world game like the FA have done as allegations about Platini build. Likewise, you won’t see McDonald’s push for a different location for 2022 World Cup, no matter how many migrant laborers die. Nor will Coca-Cola or Visa insist the 2018 World Cup be moved, even if 150,000 Russian troops do appear in Syria. The only way those companies will demand such change is if the marketplace shows true dissatisfaction with the situation. When people refuse to eat Big Macs because of Vladimir Putin, only then will things change.
Which is an indirect way of saying, it’s on us. If consumers cared about Qatar, Qatar wouldn’t have a World Cup. Blatter has become an economic liability. The day FIFA grows a conscience is the day a conscience can be proved to boost stock prices.