How the FIFA World Cup Magnifies Need for Communication and Reputation Management Strategies

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It has been said many times that football (soccer to some of our readers) has the ability to influence society’s behaviors, temporarily halt wars for 90 minutes and bridge significant cultural and language barriers between fans. Estimates of World Cup viewership in 2014 will exceed one billion world-wide with another 500,000 fans descending on Brazil to watch. Events such as the upcoming World Cup in Brazil this summer present excellent opportunities for host countries to put their best foot forward, showcasing their culture, heritage, foreign investment potential, ability of their labor force, and tourism opportunities.

In the past countries such as Italy, France, Germany, South Africa and South Korea reaped an increase in tourism and economic investment, based on successful communication strategies. But as the World Cup tournament travels to less developed and stable countries in Africa and South America, host countries must be effectively prepared to face criticism and scrutiny from foreign governments, third party watchdog organizations, local public opinion and the media.

Despite the World Cup’s international popularity, the event remains a divisive issue within this year’s host country Brazil. In a recent poll, 72 percent of Brazilians were dissatisfied with their country’s current state, a mindset exacerbated by the government’s decision to spend billions of dollars to host the World Cup tournament rather than to address the nation’s myriad domestic problems. The people’s dissatisfaction with government spending has led to large-scale protests, while delays and safety concerns related to the construction of World Cup infrastructure has many observers fearful that Brazil’s effort to host the massive sporting event will end in ruin.

Recently, in Qatar, which was selected as the host for the 2022 World Cup, there are allegations of corruption regarding the FIFA selection system, criticism of local worker related issues and the country’s ability to not only develop the infrastructure, but ability to host the tournament because of climate and security reasons.
In addition to typical promotional efforts, host countries must be careful to included precise crisis and reputation management strategies as standard communications processes in any of their global strategic communication operations.

Host countries must have in place a comprehensive strategy with effective messaging to mitigate potential damage from contentious issues such as crime, religious/ethnic/racial tensions, terrorism, human rights concerns and political instability. If not managed carefully, such issues will limit ticket sales, damage political relations and reputations, and negatively impact commerce and foreign investment before the opening whistle is ever blown.

Foresight and thorough planning ensure that high profile events like the World Cup carry enormous benefits for host countries.