Global agencies line up for "mission impossible" World Cup brief

FIFA has lined up at least five global PR agencies to compete for the job of reassuring fans and sponsors about the next two locations for the World Cup - Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 - amid yet more controversy over its handling of corruption allegations.

World Cup: Russia projected this image on to the Bolshoi Ballet building
World Cup: Russia projected this image on to the Bolshoi Ballet building

It is understood that FIFA has invited Bell Pottinger, Edelman, Weber Shandwick, Hill+Knowlton Strategies and Burson-Marsteller to pitch, with an agency to be selected by the end of the year.

The immediate focus of the stakeholder relations and crisis management brief is on Russia, but the agency will also work on the Qatar tournament.

Russia’s ongoing involvement in the civil war in neighbouring Ukraine and recent anti-gay protests at the Winter Olympics in Sochi are a big concern for FIFA in terms of gaining sponsorship and selling tickets for the tournament.

One source with knowledge of the brief described it as "mission impossible".

"Even if Russia was more accessible than it is it’s not a good tourism calling card," they said. "There is an immediate comms challenge to protect FIFA’s reputation since the [Garcia] report. The [aim to] de-couple the geopolitics in Russia and Qatar [from the World Cup] makes this a mission impossible brief."

Russia and Qatar were yesterday both cleared by FIFA of wrongdoing in the bidding process to host the tournaments, but the decision has been met with a wave of scepticism by the media.

Doubts were amplified by FIFA's refusal to publish the full investigation and by complaints from the investigator, Michael Garcia, that the 42-page summary of his 430-page report contained "numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts".

Other difficulties in the comms brief were highlighted by another source, who pointed to issues around control.

"Local organisers can’t appoint their own PR – FIFA is controlling the comms budget," the source said. "If there is a crisis, stakeholders such as the Russian government will want to communicate it one way and FIFA another, which could cause problems."

FIFA declined to comment.


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