The SIG Column - 29 June

29 Jun 2007

Labelled a repeated liar in a court of law to newly installed general secretary of FIFA in six months. The dramatic rehiring of Jerome Valcke as the second most powerful man in football has shocked the sport industry as Drew Barrand, head of media at Sport Industry Group, explains...

It’s a return to rival Lazarus.

When news of the re-hiring of formerly disgraced ex-marketing chief Jerome Valcke by global football governing body FIFA began to circulate, the collective jaws of the sport industry dropped.

When it emerged that not only was he being brought back, but that he was being installed as general secretary – second only to president Sepp Blatter in the FIFA hierarchy – the jaw dropping turned first into utter disbelief and then collective outrage.

It is not that Valcke is not an intelligent and successful businessman. Anyone who’s held a managing director position at a top organisation of the likes of French media giant Canal Plus clearly must be doing something right. It’s more the message that the appointment sends out.

Like most sports governing bodies, FIFA has to cope with the constant demand of being beyond reproach in its operations. It’s a tough ask, particularly in the modern era of overly inflated player wages. However, perhaps more than any other governing body, FIFA has failed in spectacular fashion to live up to its lofty purpose.

With allegations of financial irregularities besetting the governing body for the best part of the last two decades, FIFA had developed a reputation within commercial circles as being a flat track bully. Based purely on this status, the immense prosperity and global value of the World Cup had led FIFA to make any financial demands it wanted of its commercial partners.

The whole MasterCard court case essentially represented the commercial world fighting back. Enough is enough was the edict on which the legal action was built.

After months of protracted legal wrangling, an out of court settlement was reached with FIFA paying MasterCard $90m which paved the way to install Visa as the World Cup sponsor through to 2014.

Rightly or wrongly, as head of FIFA’s marketing and media division Jerome Valcke was the public face of this unseemly row and the governing body’s bullying reputation. The initial US court ruling last December placed him at the centre of the fiasco and labelled him as a ‘repeated liar’ in the negotiations with the two brands.

While a subsequent ruling of the US Court of Appeal on 25th March vacated the original verdict and consequently cleared Valcke of the allegations previously levelled at him, it is difficult for the industry to instantaneously forget everything that has happened in the last year.

By not only giving Valcke his job back but also promoting him to a much higher status within the FIFA organisation, the governing body is essentially stating that such a chequered past is a justifiable track record for a leading sports governor.

For an organisation that already suffers from reputation issues within commercial circles, FIFA should have been smart enough to know that Valcke’s appointment as general secretary would be viewed as questionable at best by the wider business world.

That FIFA can’t see outside itself enough to appreciate the inherent dangers of this move shows how insular the organisation has become.

Even though the court proceedings proved inconclusive as to Valcke’s professionalism, his reputation is damaged.

His appointment as general secretary is a major backwards step for FIFA. Nothing against the man or his abilities but it sends out entirely the wrong message.

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