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Jun
15

What FIFA Can Teach NGOs — And Vice Versa

By Danny Sriskandarajah

Huffington Post – Impact blog

There’s one aspect of all the controversy surrounding FIFA that’s keeping me awake at night. It’s the fact that FIFA is an NGO. I know that sounds a little sad but I do work for the world’s largest alliance of civil society, trying to promote all that’s good about NGOs. And then along comes FIFA, and ever-growing allegations about corruption and wrongdoing. But FIFA’s NGO status means that its current implosion is throwing up several salient lessons for the rest of us in civil society.

Amidst all the sponsorship deals and the vast sums of money, it’s easy to forget that FIFA is actually one of the oldest and biggest NGOs in the world. Back in 1904, when it was founded, world bodies like this were rare and FIFA embodied many of the characteristics of a good civil society organisation. It was a voluntary membership-based body, created to celebrate and unite the sport of football, generating common (voluntary) standards and coordinating a global network in the furtherance of the beautiful game.

But it has morphed into something ugly. And it is the corruption that is alleged to be at the heart of FIFA that should unsettle those of us working in civil society organisations. There are numerous lessons to be salvaged from the wreckage of Captain Blatter’s ship. I will touch upon just three here.

First, while civil society has much to gain by teaming up with the private sector and vice versa, beware the dangers of becoming too closely tied to business and profit. When NGOs become too heavily reliant on the income yielded by these partnerships, they can lose sight of their original purpose. When people lament that World Cups aren’t really about the football any more but about sponsorship deals, that is also saying that FIFA (an NGO) has become beholden to private sector cash. When this happens, civil society organisations risk losing the fundamental characteristics that set them apart from for-profit companies.

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