FIFA: how not to manage a crisis

If you’ve been following soccer news recently two amazing things happened. One, Arsenal won the FA cup and two, the rotten apple that is FIFA’s leadership is finally being tossed into the compost bin. How Sepp Blatter and FIFA leadership have led an obviously corrupt and toxic organization for so long is disparaging. Fortunately it seems that justice is slowly happening with major developments over the past week.

If you don’t know what happened, just watch the video below and you’ll be well caught-up. I’m amazed at how well John Oliver delivers news and how he comments on it; he’s clear, poignant and hilarious. Go on; watch his colourful take on the FIFA news. I’ll be here when you’re back.

As you can see, there’s plenty to talk about. Especially when you factor in the new developments of FIFA’s big sponsors demanding change in FIFA’s leadership and Blatter announcing his resignation. I’m going to put on my public relations hat and talk about how FIFA has been handling (or not handing) this crisis.

Here are two huge ways FIFA didn’t manage this crisis:

1. Sepp Blatter’s message wasn’t genuine

Anyone worth their billable rate in crisis management will tell you that if you are going to take the heat you need to be genuine. Only days after calling himself the man to clean up FIFA Sepp Blatter resigns. Blatter’s resignation cannot be seen as genuine. He didn’t suddenly read the news a few days later and discover that the organization he was leading was corrupt.

In his resignation he gave the words that he needed to give but Sepp Blatter’s words were hollow. If he really cared about the sport and its community he would have reformed the organization or admitted his errors and resign. The only explanation for his about face is that he’s real concern was appealing to the money of FIFA’s sponsors – ostensibly his paycheck. If Blatter genuinely cared about the sport, he wouldn’t have waited for his income to be threatened before stepping down.

2. They let the corruption develop

Corruption of this type is not something that happens overnight, it takes time. The controversy surrounding Blatter’s inaugural election was an obvious warning sign that a corruption scandal was going to happen. In public relations we are taught that the best way to navigate a crisis is to avoid it. The Titanic would not have sunk if they were looking out the window. FIFA would not have had this enormous scandal threaten them if they had some system that would have uncovered the corruption when it began years ago and dealt with it according in a legal and just manner.

The moral of the story for FIFA and any organization: don’t be corrupt and mean what you say. If you are corrupt and don’t mean what you say then comedians will out you for it. And it will hurt because comedians are great at telling the truth in ways that people, including fans and sponsors, can understand.

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