The New York Times revealed that many companies, and even associations of some participating countries, are taking steps to keep their brands out of the host country of this year’s World Cup even though they paid millions of dollars to associate themselves with the world’s most prominent sporting event.
Qatar has always tried to clean up its black record on workers, human rights and others, but examples of ill-treatment persist and have remained a rich material for the media, particularly in Europe, where the World Cup in Qatar remains a source of protest and severe criticism of those associated with it.
The newspaper pointed out that some companies that were expected to benefit from the largest and most popular sporting event on Earth, chose to stay away from it. For example, the ING Group, a major international financial and banking services group that sponsors the teams of the Netherlands and Belgium, decided not to benefit from the World Cup.
A spokesperson for the company told the New York Times that the company would not accept any allocation of tickets for the tournament or participate in any promotion related to the World Cup.
Several other partners of Dutch and Belgian teams have also issued statements explaining their plans to ignore what would normally be a major marketing platform. GLS, a parcel service provider and sponsor of Belgium’s team, has announced that despite its support for the Red Devils since 2011, it will not participate in any advertising campaigns in Qatar, and explained: “Because we consider that the commercial use of the 2022 World Cup in the context of the human rights situation is best not to happen.“
In a related context, the United States Soccer Federation held internal discussions about the messages it can give to players when they face inevitable questions about human rights issues, and the German national team also wore shirts reading “Human rights” before a match in the World Cup qualifiers.
After Denmark secured qualification last year, the Football Association announced that two of its sponsors had agreed to forego the space they had paid for the team’s training equipment so that it could be replaced with human rights messages during the World Cup.
The Danish Federation said that none of the team’s sponsors would participate in any commercial activities in Qatar “so that participation in the World Cup finals is primarily about sports participation and not promoting World Cup events.”
For his part, former marketing executive Ricardo Fort, who is responsible for Coca-Cola’s relationship with FIFA, explained: “Many companies were calculating the effects of the association with Qatar, but he expected most of them to eventually choose not to stay away from the tournament.”
Fort encouraged celebrities to stay away from the Qatar World Cup, saying: “If you are a retired footballer and plan to sign a deal in Germany, France, etc., you will probably be more successful than participating in the event (the World Cup).”
For others, the tempting offers may be too great to be rejected, with Qatar writing over the years some of the sport’s biggest sponsorship contracts. This has increased as the World Cup approaches, and David Beckham, the former England star, has been the biggest shot yet.
Qatar’s multi-million dollar agreement with Beckham is, in many respects, a deal for the former England captain to endorse Qatar itself. This has led some people close to him to express in particular their concerns about the nature of the deal. A person familiar with the agreement said: “It is a deal to strengthen and support (Qatar) and what it does.”
Beckham did not speak publicly about what prompted him to sign with Qatar, but Tim Crow, former CEO of Synergy, a consultancy for Olympic and World Cup sponsors, said: “I was somewhat surprised that he decided to put himself in a high-risk situation, especially for a man who does not need money.”
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