With huge events like the Rio Olympics and Euro 2016 there’s plenty for sponsors to get excited about right now and there’s no doubt that 2016 is going to be a big year for both sport and sponsorship.

For decades the two have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship that works well for both sides. Sport gets the money and brands get the reflected glory and a chance to connect with fans on a huge scale. But is sports sponsorship becoming a minefield where there is inevitable risk of catastrophic brand injury?

Whilst huge global audiences beckon, this year’s big event sponsors will be working against an unparalleled background of scandal and corruption, one that has come to typify international sports management for many fans. Brands will be thinking long and hard about how to manage their sponsorship stance in the light of the FIFA corruption story and the IAAF doping scandal.

Big sponsors like Coca-Cola and Visa have already spoken out. The former saying that FIFA had “tarnished the mission and ideals” of the World Cup and the latter threatening to “reassess” its sponsorship if FIFA did not clean up its act. Backed by McDonald’s, both brands called for Blatter’s resignation four months ago.

Coca Cola, no stranger to sponsorship problems, hit the nail on the head when it said with every day that passes the reputation of FIFA “continues to tarnish” and that FIFA needed “comprehensive and urgent reform.”

It’s clear that brands need ‘healthy’ and corruption free sports to back. We live in an age where brand transparency and honesty between consumer and brand is paramount, a stance that remains the holy grail of customer relations. Brands are pilloried if they don’t deliver the basics of what consumers feel is a relationship free of the taint of cynical moneymaking, let alone corruption.

Regarding sponsorship, brands are in the powerful position of spending millions. Their support is public and therefore totally open to scrutiny and comment, both good and bad. They know only too well that the ‘reflected glory’ of sponsoring global sports events can easily turn into the nightmare of being tainted by the behaviour of those running the sports themselves.

So what steps would sponsors feel are reasonable and necessary to deal with the backdrop of scandal at FIFA?

The organisation now has a new head, Gianni Infantino, who doesn’t carry the baggage of his predecessor and, on the face of it appears to be a breath of fresh air. What will he do to regain the confidence of commercial brands?

Prior to his election, FIFA’s Congress had already passed some measures to increase transparency and to limit some of the powers of the President. Infantino himself claimed he would restore respect, making "everybody in the world proud" of FIFA. An altogether expected statement during his acceptance speech.

He will however be judged by his actions and in this respect Infantino could do well to look at the business world to see how they deal with a corporate crisis. Siemens for example, following a bribing scandal to win contracts, largely removed the entire senior management team and declared a period of amnesty for employees to come forward. They also retained a specialist anti-corruption agency and enlisted the help of an ex-Head of Interpol. The company implemented new compliance rules, procedures and processes, backed up by extensive management training and development. In addition, they conducted nearly 1000 disciplinary hearings, including dismissals and applied a new corporate governance structure.

The expression “beyond reproach” springs to mind regarding Siemens’ root and branch response. Public, customers, shareholders and media were left in no doubt that the problem had been well and truly dealt with. So, the least we should expect from Infantino is the same determination, focus and courage.

However, this takes a clear vision and end-game. Difficult questions need to be asked such as: what does a corruption free FIFA look like and how will it conduct business?

We all expect to see FIFA progress to become an organisation with proper governance, fairness and equity, all underpinned by zero-tolerance of corruption. Because sport and big business are co-dependent Infantino needs to understand the culture and outlook of the game’s major sponsors.

FIFA cannot afford to conduct business in ignorance of the corporate goals and ideals of its sponsors or to fall short of their standards of conduct. As we can see with Siemens, corruption is harshly dealt with in the world of commerce. There is no extended period of denials, refusals and rebuttals, as there has been with FIFA.

But as well as a convincing restructuring of its entire governance operation, FIFA also needs to address its failed brand image.

It needs a clear brand vision, one that not only builds and enhances the game of football throughout the world, but one that also stands for integrity, fairness and honesty. The FIFA brand should ultimately inspire the entire football community: federations, associations, clubs, players, sponsors and especially fans - so driving the required internal reorganisation and governance procedures.

But re-building a broken brand requires both vision and ruthless-like leadership from the top of the organisation if sustained change is going to happen and become firmly rooted.

The world is watching to see if Infantino is indeed up to this task…or whether FIFA has scored yet another own goal.

Peter Gandolfi - Chairman, Mr B & Friends

Published on: 11:42AM on 26th April 2016