FIFA is having no end of trouble resulting from its choice of Qatar as the site of this year’s World Cup.
Budweiser, a $75-million corporate sponsor, learned suddenly that it can’t sell its product at the games—except for the one without alcohol—and the German team has already lost a sponsor, Rewe, over a ban of the “One Love” armband.
In a statement, Rewe, a multinational grocery chain, announced it had ended their fourteen-year relationship with the German FA as it no longer wanted to be associated with FIFA after the world governing body’s decision.
“We stand for diversity — and football is diversity too,” Rewe’s chief executive, Lionel Souque, said in comments reported by Der Spiegel. “FIFA’s scandalous attitude is absolutely unacceptable for me as the C.E.O. of a diverse company and as a football fan.”
As Belgian team member Jan Vertonghen put it, “We are being controlled. I don’t like making political statements. We are here to play football, and if we can’t even do that because we are making a statement and just saying normal things, like ‘no to discrimination’ or ‘no to racism’, and you cannot say that, then hey, then what?”
Why would FIFA choose a Muslim country with the population of Charlotte, N.C., and ruled by a hereditary emir for the biggest, most heavily publicized and media-covered event of the century thus far?
At best, it is poor risk assessment. At worst, it is FIFA doing what FIFA does—traveling the low road of greed and corruption, social and political sensibilities be damned. It might as well be 2015 all over again.
True, sponsors should have known better. But the temptation to reach such vast audiences and attract so many eyeballs must have been overwhelming. Football (or soccer, as it is parochially called here) transcends boundaries, border disputes, cultural differences, gender distinctions—nearly anything you can think of that divides us, yet FIFA has managed to turn it into a donnybrook.
If you are a PR person with a seat at the proverbial table, for goodness sake, do the homework on the reputational risk to your company or brand. If the results are negative or unpromising, stand up and argue against it, no matter how much the marketing wallahs pooh-pooh your concerns or dismiss your arguments.
Budweiser has decided to give away the beer it had been barred from selling, and bit the bullet with this tweet: “New Day, New Tweet. Winning Country gets the Buds. Who will get them?” and a picture of a large quantity of beer in a storage warehouse.
There are sure to be some happy—if drunk—fans at the end of the Cup, and Budweiser still gets to advertise its product worldwide. But FIFA should be ashamed and embarrassed, something they seem incapable of.
Meanwhile, if a rainbow appears over Lusail Iconic Stadium (no pretension like Middle Eastern pretension, eh?) during the finals, will Qatar shut down the match?
Bill Huey is president of Strategic Communications and the author of Carbon Man (Kindle, 2010).