Friday, September 19, 2014

Avarice… and the Beautiful Game

Partnerships - I write about them a fair little bit.  Some smell sweet… and some just smell.

Parmigiani Fleurier partnered with Brazil's football federation to create a limited edition watch to commemorate this past summer's world cup.  Needless to say, having brokered more than my fair share of watch partnerships, these things are usually down to a few very basic realities of the human condition.  Usually when you are the official "anything" monies change hands.  Brand reaches out and says - "Hey, let's partner up!"  Organization says - "Sure, it will cost X".  And to be clear there is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING WRONG with this.  It is business.  Just as it has always been done.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the world cup final, mystery gift bags appeared in the hotel rooms of FIFA's executive committee and other members of FIFA's "extended family".  Apparently the organizing committee of Brazil decided it was a good idea (quoting Frank Sinatra) to "Duke" members of the various countries visiting Brazil with, I don't know, a "goodie bag" that just happened to include a Parmigiani Fleurier watch…

This is from Boomberg's Alex Duff:

The Brazilian Soccer Federation distributed 65 gift bags containing a Parmigiani Fleurier SA watch to the 28 members of FIFA’s executive board, a representative of each of the 32 competing nations and someone from each of member country of the regional governing body, FIFA’s Investigatory Chamber said in an e-mailed statement.
FIFA determined that this represented (try not to laugh) an "ethics" breach as the value of the watch was CLEARLY too high, and that the "Code of Ethics" that FIFA's executive board (and member country representatives) are supposed to follow strictly forbids accepting high value gifts…

But in reality, FIFA's VERY OWN Executive Committee already knew about the watches seeing as, I don't know, they'd ALREADY RECEIVED THEM?!?  But apparently, it required an "ethics audit" to:
1.  Learn that the watches had been given (which is surprising seeing as the Executive Committee had already received them...)
2.  Decide that maybe, just maybe it wasn't okay...(which is surprising seeing as the Executive Committee had already received them...)

See where I'm going with this?


And apparently I am not the only one.  Michel Platini - the President of UEFA received one, and apparently thought something along the lines of:

'cest normal

To paraphrase, he has received several watches offered due to promotional concerns...
He was quoted as saying:

 “I was very surprised by the press release of Fifa. I think that the best thing would have been to call us, to say that the ethics committee has done ‘so and so’ and they’re not pleased.
“But if the ethics committee was not pleased, they should’ve told us that four months ago in Brazil, when we received the watches. They were aware that we were receiving these watches because everybody received them.”
And for me, that is the most salient point.  In other words, it is evident that this is not a one-off but more of a culture of gift giving and receiving.  Mr. Platini also went on to say that it was "rude" to return presents and that he planned on keeping his, and would prefer to make a donation to a charity in the amount of the watch.  Of course if FIFA insisited that he return it, he would...
What is it about FIFA and its membership that they seem to think that not getting caught in a lie is the same as telling the truth?
In this instance, I am sorry to say that my hero (remember the 82 world cup?) is just as culpable as the FIFA cronies he criticizes.  It seems that everyone has their hand out.  He ALSO knew perfectly well that the watches were not appropriate gifts per the code of ethics.  His one legitimate complaint is that this seems to be the rare instance that FIFA has chosen to follow its own code of ethics. Which means that there are probably enough "gifted" watches in the homes of senior FIFA officials to supply a Tourneau location.
So now each person who received a watch will need to return it RIGHT AWAY ... well maybe not RIGHT AWAY, but at least by late October)...

Now, is this all Parmigiani's fault?  On the basis of the facts that have been presented - no.  They signed a partnership deal with the CBF and (at least according to the CBF) the watches were purchased from Parmigiani for $8,750 each, whereby the actual price that was determined by FIFA's investigation was just a "wee bit" higher at $26,700...

It does beg the question, however, why would Parmigiani watches (which are not exactly inexpensive items) find their way into the gift bags in the first place?  Was the CBF just being incredibly generous?

I doubt it.

65 "extra" $26,700 watches available for "gifting" seems a bit unlikely.  There is more to this than is currently being discussed, but we may never know to what extent the brand, FIFA and the CBF are all involved.  It does seem like a rather unusual effort to get Parmigiani Fleurier watches in the hands of FIFA Executive Committee Members.  The CBF would have nothing to gain by doing this seeing as they had already been awarded the World Cup, so why would they spend that large an amount of money?  Would they?  Did they?

It is worth mentioning that the official timekeeping partner for FIFA is Hublot, and it is not unreasonable to assume that they might be a little less than impressed that someone else's watches would be the "talk" of the tournament…or perhaps might become the official timekeeper of future World Cups.

Now the world of sport and the "backhander" are old friends.  From Mark Spitz holding a pair of Adidas on the medal stand in Munich, to a Richard Mille watch "magically appearing" on the wrist of an "unnamed" athlete in the 100 meter final in London, because (it's a surprise!) - NOT.

There are, in theory, rules.  But when the very people who are supposed to be enforcing the rules are somehow seen to be engaged in not actively following those rules themselves so that they, I don't know, can get a nice new watch?  Let's just say that it looks as if the fox is guarding the hen-house.

Here's the thing, FIFA has been embroiled in what at best could be called "accusations of improper behavior" in the past and it is not just limited to accepting expensive watches.

It is also worth mentioning that FIFA determined that perhaps it would be "inappropriate" for their executive committee to accept watches from Hublot… and what is not clear is whether or not this was before or after the CBF/Parmigiani watches were presented to them on the sly.

As always, please draw your own conclusions.

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