Ethics, responsible business and the World Cup?

By Christopher Ang, Executive Director, Singapore Compact for CSR

Many of you would have had sleepless nights since World Cup 2014 kicked off in Brazil two weeks ago. While all eyes are glued to the fanfare surrounding each match in the early morning, I want to draw your attention to the fact that FIFA – which is the wealthiest of sporting associations worldwide – and major sponsors of the game may have missed an open goal on running a responsible business.

Even before the first football was kicked, more than a million Brazilians have protested on the streets on issues such as corruption, lack of improvement in public services and the spiraling costs of the hosting the World Cup.

Cities have always bid to win hosting rights for major sporting events on the grounds that the infrastructural construction and tourism would bring about benefits to its citizens. However, Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project showed that 61% of Brazilians thought the World Cup is a bad thing for Brazil because it has taken money away from public services.


Brazilian construction companies have made a great deal of money from the construction of stadiums for the World Cup, as well as related infrastructure. But they have also been blamed for the evictions of poor people from their homes and street hawkers of their livelihoods to make way for the stadiums, without proper and adequate compensation. Additionally, their safety and human rights records have been dismal – eight workers have died on the construction sites related to the World Cup. This compares with the London Olympics, where not a single worker was lost during construction. There have also been reports of rampant child prostitution arising from the influx of tourists to the World Cup. It seems Brazil and its residents may have got the short end of the stick.


Corporate sponsors of the World Cup are missing a powerful opportunity to pressure FIFA to negotiate with the government and ensure that communities are compensated fully, workers well-treated and fairly paid, and vulnerable people are protected.  Instead, they are now being associated with a World Cup that is as much exciting on pitch as it is controversial off-pitch.


And what of FIFA? They could have played a bigger role in giving the World Cup an enduring legacy of human rights and prosperity.  Instead, they have shown that they are not fully transparent, and even before the final whistle blows, all eyes are on accusations of bribery with the award of hosting the 2022 event in Qatar.


Things aren’t looking so good under the sheen of The Beautiful Game.