Talking FIFA, Sepp, and Crisis Management

Erik Bernstein crisis communications, crisis management, crisis public relations, Crisis Response, Erik Bernstein, Jonathan Bernstein, PR, public relations, reputation management, sports crisis management Leave a Comment

An ugly situation and a chance to do better

Although FIFA’s reputation has slowly been sliding downhill as a result of years of questionable decisions and shady dealings, the corruption charges leveled against officials at the organization by Swiss and U.S. authorities gave it a big shove off the reputation cliff.

This week, Bernstein Crisis Management president Jonathan Bernstein shared his thoughts on the situation with The Wall Street Journal’s Ben DiPietro for their Crisis of the Week feature:

“Sepp Blatter’s response to the indictment and arrests of FIFA officials probably qualifies as the crisis management understatement of the year: ‘We understand the disappointment that many have expressed and I know that the events of today will impact the way in which many people view us.’

“In fact, it took until many days later, after Blatter’s resignation, for Domenico Scala, the head of FIFA’s audit and compliance committee, to finally say what Blatter should have said on Day 1: ‘Now it is the time for FIFA to move forward. There is significant work to be done in order to regain the trust of the public and to fundamentally reform the way people see FIFA.’

“In the meantime, Blatter dug the reputation hole deeper for FIFA by allowing his re-election to move forward and resigning only after elected…until an extraordinary congress can be convened. In all of his comments to date, by refusing to accept any personal responsibility, by pointing fingers at his accusers, he has also done one or both of two forms of damage to FIFA–thrown everyone indicted thus far under the bus and/or implied that FIFA’s membership was so foolish as to elect and re-elect a leader who wasn’t competent to ensure proper checks and balances existed.

“In his resignation speech, however, Blatter did finally set the correct crisis management tone for FIFA going forward, with strong statements such as: ‘FIFA needs a profound overhaul…We need deep-rooted structural change…What matters to me more than anything is that when all of this is over, football is the winner.’ Still no admission of responsibility, of course, but then this is the guy who said, ‘Why would I step down? That would mean I recognize that I did wrong.’ Then he resigned.”

The way FIFA moves forward from this debacle will likely determine its reputation, and the level of trust it receives from stakeholders, for years to come. Suffice to say, this case is far from over.

Erik & Jonathan Bernstein

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