Expert Opinion

Governance under questions following FIFA corruption arrests

With Fifa hit by a corruption scandal that saw a number of arrests earlier this week and Fifa president Sepp Blatter under increasing pressure to resign, Simon Robinson Professor of Applied and Professional Ethics, and Director of our Research Centre for Governance, Leadership and Global Responsibility assesses the situation from a governance perspective.

It is reassuring to see the major corporates coming out to warn FIFA that, in one case, if it does not get its house in order then sponsorship might be withdrawn, or is it? It is interesting that virtually all regulation, be that from formal bodies or from stakeholders, comes after the event- after everything has gone wrong. At that point from moral and legal high ground they can point to the finger of judgment at the perpetrator and either fine them or tell them to ‘pull their socks up’. But in a sense it’s already too late…the horse has bolted. Why didn’t the large corporates get into this dialogue well before the FBI came over the horizon? All the signs were there, with allegations of corruption and huge questions about how the governance was or was not being changed by FIFA. Why didn’t the corporates challenge FIFA at any of these points? Not their responsibility? If not then why is suddenly now their responsibility?

UN Special Representative John Ruggie and his work on human rights and business talks about the unique position of big business to provide leverage in areas to do with values and practice. This is a moral obligation and we do not need to wait for the FBI. Of course, I could be wrong and it could be that there was good dialogue going on behind closed doors. In which case we might ask did it make a difference?

The cynics would say we do not need to wait for the law to cause the firm to be worried about reputation management. I am not one of those cynics. I prefer to invite major corporates to reflect on their power not just to affect this or that project or stakeholder, but their power affect to ethical meaning and practice more widely… their power to enable partners to reflect on what they are doing and why. With power, as Spiderman’s uncle noted, comes responsibility, moral as well as legal.

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