Global play and World Cups demand global responsibility for sport governance actors

(AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron)
(AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron)

Corporate sponsors such as Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Visa, Sony and Adidas find themselves in a hotspot when the integrity of sport governance comes into question. Though such sponsors are savvy enough to create socially sensitive campaigns that match the demographic and social contexts of their markets, meaningful corporate responsibility requires more than window dressing.

In the growing wake of recent World Cup-FIFA scandals and protests, there is a need to reconsider the expectations for corporate responsibilities and good governance in the sport sector. In this first of a two-part feature on sport governance, I examine the relationship between sport politics and corporate responsibility.

Soccer: World Cup Qualifier-USA at Panama
(Credit: Winslow Townson)

At the turn of the 20th century, the founders of international sport events and movements such as the Olympics and World Cup aimed to create a social glue that would transcend the prickly moorings of culturally relative political strapping. This early vision of sport was largely focused upon facilitating cooperation among nation states.

Today, the politics of hosting sport mega-events such as the World Cup and the Olympics has become commonplace, yet sport governing bodies occupy contradictory positions when insisting that sport is, after all, apolitical. States pander to the prestige, limelight, jobs, tourism, nation (re)branding opportunities, and anticipated economic boon of hosting the world’s premier sport. And neither FIFA nor the IOC desire to lose potential hosting clients.

(Credit: Matt Kryger)

Theoretically, international sport institutions such as FIFA operate with a core mission to develop sport as a cultural good. Yet, these semi-public entities, operating as nongovernmental organizations with a civil society mission, are also bureaucratic institutions that respond to multinational corporate, media broadcast, and nation-state interests, while also pursuing self-referential elite interests.

Though international sport governing bodies l carry an enormous capacity to generate, diffuse and facilitate the cooperation needed for implementing new norms, we witness either a reluctance or a denial of responsibility in using this authority to lead efforts to guarantee protections of basic social human rights.

Soccer: World Cup-Natal City Scenes
(Credit: Winslow Townson)

In times of public outcry and demand that social interests better inform sport, corporate responsibility actions seem paltry, out of sync, absent, or too little too late. Sport governance socially responsible actions in times and spaces of its own choosing cannot substitute for responding to demands on the ground, from the people.

This sport governance negligence not only has a human toll in terms of enjoyment of social, political and economic freedoms, but this negligence, this falter in good governance, also proves costly for the reputation of the game and its sponsors.


Rook Campbell is a Visiting Professor of Communication and Political Science at the University of Southern California. @cabinet48

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