Not long after news broke that international football’s governing body is facing a dual set of criminal investigations on charges of corruption, it summoned a press conference in which spokesman De Gregorio said, “This, for FIFA, is good”.
As the headlines mount, and as every commentator, pundit and tweeter adds their voice to a global chorus of j’accuse, I wonder if those words will haunt De Gregorio for some time to come. As he spoke, fourteen of FIFA’s high ranking officials were being indicted by the US attorney general on charges relating to “rampant, systematic and deep-rooted” corruption.
With key sponsors beginning to reconsider their relationship with the body, UEFA coming close to a boycott of FIFA’s presidential election and even PM David Cameron backing a call for FIFA president Sepp Blatter to step down, the scandal is likely to be cited for years to come as a test of crisis management.
But could De Gregorio have a point? While high profile criminal investigations into FIFA’s activities might seem to place it beyond redemption, could this be an opportune moment for it to shed a reputation it desperately needs to escape?
For years, FIFA has been dogged by allegations of corruption directed at the highest echelons of its bureaucracy. Rumours of bribery and sordid deals with leaders of repressive states behind closed doors have been rife. These have only been accentuated by the latest scandal around the dubious bidding process that saw Russia and Qatar winning the rights to host the next World Cups.nt leadership.
Perhaps this is the chance FIFA has been waiting for to draw a line in the sand and usher in a new era.
To seize that chance, FIFA needs to embrace a process of complete openness and transparency – something that could prove painful in the short term. Every skeleton has to be evicted from every closet. Otherwise, even if it cooperates truthfully with the current round of investigations, any future scandals will undermine, if not permanently ruin, the prospect of FIFA making a fresh start.
The headlines will be horrible; the damage potentially extreme. But if FIFA takes its chance it can perhaps turn a massive own goal into a case study for reputation management.