LONDON – The World Cup has concluded with its usual flourish, and much of the world, as usual, couldn’t help but get caught up in the excitement of it all – which is exactly the outcome that Sepp Blatter wants. Blatter, the president of FIFA, the Cup’s organizing body, wants the afterglow of an exciting month of play to blot out the corruption and backroom deals – and, most recently, a ticket scandal – that have roiled his tenure.
Times were very different in 1998, when Blatter took up his role. Social media did not exist, and the Internet had not yet become a means of spreading the views of the voiceless and disenfranchised. Nor was the culture of shareholder activism and corporate social responsibility as strong as it is today. As BP, GM, and Royal Bank of Scotland have discovered, the world is watching, talking, and no longer willing to accept the old way of conducting business.
FIFA has two problems. One is a straightforward lack of compliance with accepted business practices. Allegations of wrongdoing range from match-fixing and bribery among members of FIFA’s Executive Committee to questions about how Qatar was chosen to host the World Cup in 2022.
The second problem is arguably more serious, for it is epiphenomenal: the damage that unethical behavior has done to the ideal of fair play. When people see an institution that relates to something that they feel passionate about failing so publicly to abide by simple rules, they lose faith not only in that institution, but also in the idea that good governance is achievable at all. The message sent, and understood, is that some institutions – of all kinds – are immune from scrutiny and can play by their own rules.