Johannesburg - In recent years, global sports have been plagued by corruption, controversies and scandals, and have been crippled by infighting, power struggles, unbridled conflict and bad governance.
Such controversies and scandals significantly affected the reputation of the brands sponsoring associations, clubs, athletes and the competitions organised by sports institutions. After all, the reason businesses sponsor sports or athletes is simple - to increase the value (or at least improve the perception) of their brands through association with concepts such as fair play, hard work, redemption, integrity, ethics and good governance.
Big business brands do not just give money away out of the goodness of their corporate hearts.
Sponsors do not want to be associated with the controversies and scandals, and they cut ties with sports associations, clubs and stars that are generating bad publicity and garnering negative attention.
Sponsored sports are official carriers of sponsors’ brands, so they need to be strong brands enjoying positive reputations.
However, once the sponsored sports events, sports administrators or athletes are revealed to be corrupt, this can easily tarnish the brand image and therefore the reputation of the sponsoring company.
As unethical behaviour in the sports world, such as corruption, maladministration, racism, women abuse, doping, drugs, ill-discipline and match-fixing come to the fore, sports governing bodies need to beef up their reputation risk and crisis-management strategies.
The huge public negativity around FIFA (corruption), Olympics (corruption and doping), Tiger Woods (cheating), Lance Armstrong (doping) and lately Australian cricket (ball-tampering) has led to sponsors terminating ties with the associations and athletes.
When the SA Football Association (SAFA) was hit by successive scandals involving its president Danny Jordaan, namely “a conspiracy by the leadership to break the FIFA rules to hold on to power” and “women abuse and rape”, swift and decisive action needed to be taken to prevent negative consequences in its relationships with sponsors and to manage the perception of the football-mad nation in general.
The response was supposed to be sympathetic, fair, transparent and decisive, justified by the action taken by its leadership. Responding six months after the allegation had surfaced was the worst way to handle a crisis. And SAFA’s communication lacked compassion - an essential ingredient for navigating a crisis of this scale.
Although SAFA is correct that Jordaan is innocent until proven guilty, its statement sounded like an organisation that was unsympathetic to the scourge of women abuse and indicated that it was prepared to compromise SAFA and sponsors in defence of its president.
The level of sexual violence in South Africa is one of the highest in the world. SAFA should have acknowledged how women, partners, sponsors and others feel about rape. It should have expressed unreserved sympathy and commitment to undergo a fair internal investigation of the matter. Jordaan should have been put on special leave.
SAFA made a major mistake. This is likely to prompt other sponsors to terminate their agreements with immediate effect; others might not renew commitments when their contracts expire.
It looks as if SAFA has so far scored an own goal.
About the writer: Thabani Khumalo is Director @ Think Tank Marketing Services and former Boxing SA Board Member