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Fifa arrests will damage the brand and football itself

There is no doubt that today’s Fifa arrests have tarnished the brand of football’s world governing body, however whether this will reduce its ‘vice-like’ grip on the beautiful game is much harder to predict.

It is worth pointing out that, in British minds at least, Fifa is already a tarnished brand, so today’s developments only confirm what, for many years, people already suspected.

These question marks hanging over Fifa have always been there and have been heightened by the ongoing UK media storm against FIFA for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup decisions.

The arrest of some of the organisation's most senior officers as well as members of its marketing team is going to cement Fifa's association with scandal, but as in other occasions it will most likely survive.

Ultimately Fifa is a monopoly, so in one sense it can ride this storm out as there is no alternative to one of the world’s most popular sports.

The trouble this then produces is that the brand damage trickles down from Fifa and starts impacting on international football as a whole.

If this happens, which I predict it will, then we are facing the very real prospect of some of the world’s biggest brands starting to question their sponsorship for international games.

Nevertheless two interesting things stand out from today’s events. The first is that Fifa marketing executives have also been arrested.

Whether or not this was a conscious decision by the authorities, it is going to make it extremely difficult for the body to form a cohesive response to the allegations.

By going for the mouthpiece and the top brass of the organisation, the authorities have left Fifa in the position where it cannot hide behind spin and has no option other than to cooperate with the enquiries.

What makes the decision to arrest part of the marketing team even more interesting is that it falls just a few days before Fifa is due to vote on whether to re-elect Sepp Blatter for a fifth term as president of the body.

In that sense it gives the distinct impression that these arrests come over more as a leadership coup than an anti-corruption sting.

However, there is another intriguing and, in some respects worrying, aspect to today’s developments, namely that the probe has been conducted by the US.

Fifa is neither resident in the US nor are any of the arrested officials (excluding the marketing team) United States citizens. Moreover the alleged bribery is related to events that took place in South America.

I think it is really important we question America’s motive for launching this investigation as it creates a worrying precedent for businesses all around the world that they are vulnerable to US justice.

Whether or not the decision to award Russia the hosting duties for the 2018 World Cup had anything to do with America’s interest in Fifa is yet to be seen, although I suspect this could be a possibility.

Ultimately this is a sad turn of events as when Fifa's reputation is tarnished, the game enjoyed by billions around the planet is tarnished as well. The cruel irony is that the planet’s most popular sport has become a political football.

Jacques de Cock is a faculty member at the London School of Marketing

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