20/06/2014 09:16 BST | Updated 19/08/2014 06:59 BST

Mephistopheles Strikes Again


There's something a bit Faustian about World Cup sponsorship. Highly successful, ambitious companies enter into a partnership with the all-powerful but morally suspect Fifa. Profits are guaranteed but there are strings attached.

Over the four-year World Cup cycle it's estimated that Fifa will have sold sponsorship rights to the tune of £850m. According to reports from the 2010 World Cup, those sponsors will reap almost £2.5b in return. But tying your name to an event means doing exactly that. The endorsement is of more than just the football played, it's of everything that goes with it.

Eight people died building the new World Cup stadiums. These companies endorse that. Billions of dollars of public money has been spent on this World Cup when swathes of the local population remain in poverty. These companies endorse that. Anti-corruption protests led to heavy-handed police reprisals and the deaths of protesters. These companies endorse that, too. By entering in to these sponsorship deals they're also saying that they're proud to associate themselves with Fifa.

Fifa - whose president denied the existence of racism in football, then claimed if there was any it should be settled with a handshake. Sepp Blatter has faced allegations of corruption ever since his first election in 1998 when the then head of the Somali Football Federation claimed he was offered $100,000 for his vote. More than a decade on, little has changed. In 2011 Blatter ran for the presidency for a third time, he promised it would be his last. His election was unopposed after one candidate unexpectedly pulled out and the other was the target of a conveniently timed corruption investigation. He then announced he would stand again in 2015.

This is an organisation that oversaw a World Cup in South Africa where schools were demolished and thousands of people were displaced to make way for stadiums. It is an organisation that felt it necessary to award a World Cup to Qatar - a country with such a poor human rights record that at one stage an average of one migrant worker was dying every day in the construction industry alone. The International Trade Union Confederation estimated that, if current conditions continued, building the Qatari World Cup stadiums could cost the lives of up to 4,000 migrant workers.

Would that be too high a cost for potential sponsors? Or would they still be proud to endorse another Fifa World Cup. It's not as though these companies just happen to be associated with this event and its tragic journey. They've actively competed for this privilege. They've paid vast sums of money to support a corrupt organisation facilitate a tournament in a country that has, at times, turned to brutal tactics to suppress the voice of its own people.

The sponsors need to really think about what it is they're supporting here. They can hide behind adverts showing Usain Bolt dancing with locals in a favela if they want but ultimately this whole exercise is about creating a brand image. If these companies aren't put off by the corruption, police brutality and the suppression of workers' rights, what kind of image is that?