That Time FIFA Gave Me Money – Can Bad Companies Do Good Things?


Naomi Ryland


This post originally appeared on The Changer. The original article can be found here>

Since I have a professional background at a large football-for-development charity based in Berlin, which has been funded by FIFA (almost) since its existence, I have been particularly troubled by the recent revelations about widespread, institutional and long-term corruption at the aforementioned organisation. Yes, it was always somehow clear that this was happening, especially what with the whole Qatar fiasco. But if it was difficult to gloss over before, there is certainly no amount of gloss that can save them now, given that seven of their top officials have been served arrest warrants by the US Attorney General herself.

Not knowing how I should feel about all this myself, I was interested to find out what the CEO ofstreetfootballworld had to say about it, now that it is out in the open. To give some context, streetfootballworld has received – and been an intermediary for – millions of dollars from FIFA over the previous 6 years. They have used this money to connect 100 organisations worldwide that all use football for positive social change (from HIV education to landmine awareness and refugee integration), providing them with funding opportunities, peer-to-peer exchange, international football tournaments for disadvantaged youth (parallel to FIFA World Cups) and a whole host of football grounds in townships in South Africa. Jürgen Griesbeck, co-founder and CEO is an Ashoka Germany fellow and Schwab Fellow. So a pretty well regarded social entrepreneur.

I didn’t need to look far – on their website and Facebook page Jürgen had immediately published a statement (NB excellent shitstorm management):

Like every football fan I was saddened to read this week about yet more examples of people corrupting the sport to enrich themselves at the expense of the true nature of the game. As with any global business, appropriate governance and administration are vitally important – and just as important are transparency and the ability to hold wrongdoers to account.

But this is not football to me. Beyond the accusations or institutional decisions, football is one of the most positive forces alive in the world. There are hundreds of millions who choose to just enjoy the game and to use it to do good – promoting equal rights for women and girls in Kenya, providing education and employment to youth in Haiti, creating a path back to society for homeless men and women in the USA.

In these organizations – and many others like them in the streetfootballworld network – lies the true power of the game. I believe that whatever the outcome of the current situation within the governing body is, a movement is growing in the world of football to recognize, elevate and leverage the power of football to become a force for social change.

We are heading toward a more globalized, connected and interdependent world. A world that will need more global, connected and interdependent solutions. I believe that, despite all the successes of the grassroots in changing lives, in many cases saving lives, the real power of the game is still to be unearthed.

Like every football fan, I look forward to the day when the word ‘football’ is synonymous with a powerful global force that carries the purpose of its business – adding value to society – at its core.

Idealistic? Yes, certainly. But maybe an industry which seemingly has that many idiots needs a hell of a lot of idealists to balance it out? (Then they might even cancel each other out and we may even just end up with a sports game again??)

Anyway, certainly several streetfootballworld fans agreed with Jürgen’s take on the matter, and generally “likes” were had by all.

Until a comment from a former Brazilian colleague, who had initially managed streetfootballworld’s expansion to Brazil, a post which he soon relinquished. Brazil, as many of us know, did not have THE best relationship with FIFA in the run up to the World Cup (read more here) and for self-proclaimed idealists like Andres, the close relationship to FIFA was too much for a charity supposedly upholding the rights of the poor and disadvantaged. Cue controversial comment on streetfootballworld’s Facebook post:

“Nice words Jürgen Griesbeck but I would have loved to read why, even knowing about the huge levels of corruption at FIFA an organization like streetfootballworld received all along these years important donations and consultancy contracts from FIFA. “Partnerships” like these are not always healthy even if you name them Football for Hope.”

Hmm. Uh oh. Someone asked THAT question. Eeek. Awkward. Nobody was supposed to mention that.

After a moment of breath-holding and renewed soul-searching on my part (should I return 2 years of salary to cleanse my conscience? Dare I still call myself a CHANGER???) a response popped up from a former board member – Steve (last name) from Lesotho charity, Kick4Life:

“This is an important question Andrés Thompson and one that successive boards of streetfootballworld have seriously pondered. Not everyone has agreed on the best approach, but the majority of network members have advocated working with the industry rather than taking a moral stand and becoming a voice in the wilderness at the expense of the young people our organisations serve. Every day at Kick4Life we see the impact of the partnerships forged by streetfootballworld – young people accessing treatment for HIV, children getting back into school, vulnerable girls protected and sustainable livelihoods achieved. The same can be said by network members across the globe. But not only have these partnerships enabled huge amounts of life-changing work, I believe that by working with FIFA we have also been, and will continue to be, a part of the change process that is underway. The independent voice of streetfootballworld has never been compromised and we are now better placed than ever to promote the role of football for social change at all levels of the game.”

Clearly, he is biased. I mean, he doesn’t want to drop himself in the doo-doo, what with being one of those pondering board members himself. But it does seem that he has thought it through and at least made his peace with it himself. That back then, and even now, he was able to justify to himself WHY he felt comfortable being part of an organisation that legitimised taking money from shady organisations, and has weighed up the pros and cons in terms of impact. What difference would it have made, he argues, if streetfootballworld had not taken the money. Millions (or is it billions?) of people would still have watched the World Cup. The money would have ended up somewhere (possibly in the back pocket of a fat old Swiss man), and Kick4Life wouldn’t have been able to help as many people as they do now to avoid and live more comfortably with AIDs.

It’s hard to take a stand on your own. But, hey, that’s also a pretty good excuse for not giving a damn.

Is there a right or wrong? Probably not. Clearly it is a decision each individual organisation has to make. And then each individual employee has to make that decision too. Going either way will definitely demotivate (and even alienate) some and fire up others. But being able to keep a clear and consistent line, and knowing exactly WHY you are making that decision, so that you can stand up in front of ALL your stakeholders (especially when the shit hits the fan) and defend it is certainly important.

Either way, it is clear that charities are not in the position alone to shift the values of a corporation – whether by agreeing to work with them or refusing to. So whilst it might be easy to point the finger, I would also say that before we judge a charity for taking money from a dubious source, maybe it is time for us all to kick the KitKat habit, steer clear of that H&M sale and find a new hobby before Summer 2018.

Naomi Ryland, is Co-Founder of The Changer.

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