It goes beyond gestures: A PR take on World Cup failings

Sunday the 20th of November saw Qatar open its doors to the world as it kicked off the first ever Christmas World Cup. Historically, the World Cup has been a special event where people set aside their differences and the world comes together. It offers people hope; not that everything will change in an instant, but that the world is capable of working together.  This being said, the light of sport has never seemed dimmer as we approach the end of the first week in Qatar - and for good reason. Never has the conversation around football been so multifaceted and intense. Oppressive laws are prevalent in every country involved. But from the very second that Sepp Blatter announced that Qatar would be hosting the 2022 World Cup, there has been a dark cloud over the tournament that has only grown. Bribery, inhumane working conditions and an oppressive regime on LGBTQ+ rights/the LGTBQ+ community are amongst the major issues to be discussed around the tournament.  From a PR standpoint, it has been a litany of failure. From every angle you look, countries, organisations and influencers have stripped away everything that made the World Cup feel special. It has come to epitomise elitism, corruption and, most importantly, a lack of genuine empathy.  So what can B2B tech organisations learn from this ongoing PR ‘disaster class’?  The FA(il) Take the English Football Association (FA) as a good example. The OneLove armband, which was meant to be a statement against all forms of prejudice at the World Cup in Qatar, has been abandoned by England, Wales and five other European nations. They made the choice after receiving a warning from Fifa that they would be subject to sports consequences and their captains might receive a yellow card or be ejected from the field. Instead, throughout the competition, captains are expected to don armbands that have been approved by Fifa and promote various social messages. One reads "No Discrimination", which was supposed to be worn by teams in the quarterfinals, but will now be worn in the first group games.  This was greeted with great disappointment and outrage - and understandably so. The decision by the FA sent a message to millions of people that “we’re willing to stand in solidarity with you, up until the point that it threatens our own aims”. The very nature of a protest means that those involved understand that it comes with some cost. Many people have varying thoughts on the JustOil activists protest, but no one can refute their commitment to their beliefs. They make their stance known, understanding their actions may lead to tough consequences, but believe in the unwavering importance of their message that the consequences pale in comparison. The FA’s backtrack on its stance, due to fear of football-related sanctions, highlights the level of significance it placed on opposing these issues, alienating all those who had championed the initiative. True allyship entails standing up for what is right for others continuously, not just when it is convenient. It is important for organisations to have a strong stance on certain issues, from human rights to sustainability, but this stance must be backed up by action. People are not stupid, and they can see through empty words and gestures. England’s victory in the World Cup should have been greeted with elation throughout the nation, but many were left with a bitter taste in their mouth.  Gianni Infa(il)tino  A similar bitter taste was experienced following the ludicrous speech given by Gianni Infantino on the eve of the World Cup. Infantino began his speech with the statement: “Today I feel Qatari, today I feel Arab, today I feel African, today I feel gay, today I feel a migrant worker.” Whilst we spare a thought for his PR team, who either have no control over him or are terrible at their jobs, it is necessary to understand just how dangerous this narrative is. Infantino claimed to know what it's like to be discriminated against, due to the fact that he had been bullied as a child for being ginger, but has never feared for his life because of who he is. He has never understood what it is like to be the ‘other’ because of the colour of his skin. He has never risked his life in desperation to earn money for his family. Infantino is a rich man, at the top of a very powerful organisation, hosting a tournament that is designed to bring people together. Infantino’s failed attempt at empathy was merely a tool to service his own aims. A tool that was clear to all.  Nothing that Infantino or Fifa have done has shown people they understand the plights of those who have been affected the most. None of the actions taken have benefited migrant workers or the LGBTQ+ community. Fifa’s attempt at empathy has been riddled with ignorance and incompetence, further damaging the little credibility they had left.  Empathetic PR Connecting with your customers and forming meaningful relationships has never been more important. If you are sending a message on an ongoing issue, it has to mean something. Your messaging has to match your values, and those values have to be followed with meaningful action.  Talk is cheap, empathy is expensive. But not as expensive as the damage that could be caused by doing it insincerely.