World Cup scores poorly when it comes to crisis management

July 7, 2014 by Sophie Hunt

Whilst there’s no denying the 2014 World Cup has given us some amazing football, it’s also required a number of parties to put their crisis management training and planning to the test.

Crisis management skills

Allegations of bribery and match fixing coupled with incidents like Luis Suarez’s run in with Giorgio Chiellini have threatened the beautiful game’s reputation and with less than a week to go, FIFA officials must be praying their crisis management skills won’t be pushed into extra time.

Just like a Premier League team, effective crisis handling requires preparation, training, strong leadership and a turn of speed. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on three of the hottest issues associated with this year’s tournament.

Qatar 2022 

Just days before the start of the 2014 World Cup, FIFA’s crisis management skills were put to the test after corruption allegations surfaced in relation to the award of the 2022 tournament to Qatar.

Luckily for FIFA, the world’s love affair with football (and some quality action on the pitches in Brazil) helped deflect some of the negative attention, reinforcing exactly why it’s so important for organisations to develop a bank of goodwill they can trade on when a crisis hits.

The situation also emphasised that crises should be managed in accordance with an organisation’s values. If it claims to be honest, ethical and transparent it needs to act accordingly when things go wrong. It also needs to crack down on anything which calls its corporate values into question and this is where strong leadership comes in. FIFA has ground to make up in both areas.

Luis Suarez’s ‘run in’ with Giorgio Chiellini

One of the first rules drummed into any crisis media training delegate is acknowledge your mistakes – something Luis Suarez would do well to remember.

Having watched the Uruguay vs Italy match, I was surprised when Suarez, in the immediate aftermath of the game, failed to apologise for biting, announcing instead that he had simply ‘lost his balance’ causing him to fall into his opponent and make contact with his shoulder.

In my opinion, this failure to show any contrition resulted in severe reputational damage. It also meant that when he did finally apologise to Chiellini more than a week later, his gesture was perceived by some as a PR stunt designed to pour oil on troubled waters prior to a club transfer, rather than a heartfelt apology.

Whatever your opinion, my advice is if you’ve made a mistake admit it, learn from it and change your behaviour. We all remember David Beckham’s infamous sending off at the 1998 World Cup after he kicked out at Diego Simeone. His reputation quickly recovered due to a bank of goodwill, his immediate apology and a lack of repeat offences.

Cameroon’s alleged match fixing

When a crisis breaks, it’s vital that organisations react quickly and respond appropriately. Following allegations that Cameroon’s 4-0 defeat to Croatia was ‘rigged’, Cameroon’s FA was quick to issue a statement announcing that it had launched its own investigation into the claims. It also set the alleged incident in context, saying that “in fifty-five (55) years of existence, FECAFOOT has never been sanctioned for, involved in, or even linked to match fixing or any fraud of any kind.”

By taking a robust approach in line with its values, Cameroon’s FA got its message across right from the outset, rather than having to play catch up.

In a tournament when the world’s eyes are upon you, there’s no room for error. Manage an issue well and you’ll live to fight another day. Handle it badly and you could find yourself in the relegation zone.

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