There has been much discussion of how FIFA’s sponsors should respond to the deepening crisis engulfing Sepp Blatter and his remaining allies.
Major corporations such as Coca-Cola, Visa and Adidas spend billions of dollars to bathe in the reflected glory and sell more cola, credit and kit but when the brand turns toxic, they may well ask whether it is worth the investment.
Until recently, however, there’s been far less examination of how FIFA has tried to work the same trick in reverse, effectively sponsoring non-governmental organisations to burnish its own tarnished image.
Both Interpol and the Nobel Peace Centre have been the beneficiaries of this strategy, agreeing to accept upwards of $23m (£15m) between them for “partnerships” with FIFA.
Now, with the FBI and the Swiss police swarming over FIFA and some of its members, both Interpol and Nobel have decided to distance themselves from Zurich.
That they accepted deals in the first place raises questions about their judgment, while providing a reminder of football’s power to intoxicate.
The Interpol case first. The relationship began with the recruitment from Interpol of Chris Eaton as FIFA’s head of security in 2010.
The Australian made match-fixing a priority, and enjoyed some success in highlighting the scale of a problem that has exploded beyond the control of the game’s authorities.
It also opened the door to a more formal relationship, one that was sealed in May 2011, when Interpol secretary-general Ron Noble travelled to Zurich to sign a deal that would see FIFA contribute $20m (£13m) over 10 years to fund an “Integrity in Sport” programme.
This is the same Interpol that, two weeks ago, put two former FIFA executive committee members on its most-wanted list, complete with mugshots.
The partnership was the first of many contacts between the two organisations. Former Interpol staffers have worked on investigations commissioned by FIFA’s ethics committee, and Eaton’s successor, Ralph Mutschke, spent four years at Interpol before moving to Zurich.
If this all looks cosy it took Interpol a long time to notice. Despite signing up when corruption allegations surrounding the award of the 2018 and 2022 were at their height, it took the police raids and two weeks of chaos for Interpol to pull the plug.
If Interpol’s response puts you in mind of Captain Renault in Casablanca, it’s not much better for the Nobel Peace Centre. They were approached in 2012 to lend their name to Sepp Blatter’s pet project, the “Handshake for Peace”.
Not to be confused with the “Handcuffs for Justice” campaign currently being run by the FBI, the handshake is a classic Blatter play.
It takes something players do anyway – a handshake – and elevates it for the self-aggrandisement of FIFA and its president, with the ultimate aim of securing a Nobel Peace Prize for one or both.
With Nobel’s name lending credibility, the handshake has become one of several pieces of empty pre-match diplomacy that blight international football. Instead of a few moments of anticipation orchestrated by the fans, we get a festival of protocol for the benefit of the blazers and politicians in the free seats.
Blatter was still pushing the handshake at the FIFA Congress in May, when he managed to orchestrate a meeting of palms between the Israeli FA president and his plainly livid Palestinian counterpart, and then got all the delegates to shake hands too.
It was like a giant Catholic mass without the guilt, and in a parallel universe it would have been the moment that clinched Blatter his Nobel medal.
But alas, on Tuesday Nobel announced they too have had enough, withdrawing their co-operation with a parting wish for the handshake to remain “within football”.
Of all the blows aimed at Blatter in the last three weeks, this one appears to have landed.
He genuinely thought he might one day sit alongside Nelson Mandela and Gerry Adams as recipient of the ultimate humanitarian gong. Not anymore, and judging by FIFA’s latest press release he has not taken defeat in the spirit symbolised by the handshake.
“This action does not embody the spirit of fair play especially as it obstructs the promotion of the key values of peace-building and anti-discrimination,” FIFA complained, vowing to go on using the handshake at the current Women’s World Cup and in future.
This raises the prospect that we may see the Nobel Peace Centre pleading for their name to be removed from association with FIFA events.
Nothing better sums up how over-mighty FIFA became on Blatter’s watch, nor how far it has fallen.