With news last week that an England player is considering hiring a security firm to travel to Russia with his family, safety concerns for this summer’s World Cup continue to escalate.

From a sponsorship perspective, it’s important to remember that FIFA sponsors don’t choose the venues for the World Cups. FIFA do. What sponsors do choose is how they activate their rights and, in the current climate, they not only require a proactive strategy; they also need to ensure they’re prepared if things don’t go to plan.

At H+K we always offer clients issues preparedness around high profile international sports events – which increasingly bring opportunity and risk in equal measure. In the same way you wouldn’t drive without a seat belt, we don’t believe a sponsor should activate without having first planned properly around issues management.
In fact, a sponsor’s protection starts with its contract negotiation and unambiguous grounds for termination, especially when it comes to disrepute. This is mandatory when protecting a company’s reputation in modern day sponsorship.

From a proactive point of view, our belief is that the most effective sponsorships are those founded on actual partnerships – with brands able to make a genuine contribution and difference to the sport or event they’re supporting. So, I don’t believe brands should just throw the towel in if something is not to their liking.  How a sponsor can work with FIFA to encourage the right behaviours and fan environment has got to be their first proactive thought.

My own view is that sport and politics should be, wherever possible, kept separate. Sport has the ability to engage and unite like few other things. In a challenging environment, like we’re seeing across the world at the moment, I’d like to think the World Cup – and its sponsors’ activity – can make a positive difference.

In sponsorship circles, there’s been much talk about the fact that FIFA’s last four sponsors have all come from China (WandaVivo and Hisense and China Mengniu Dairy) and how a successful World Cup in Russia is key for FIFA.
The Chinese brands will be clearly using this global platform to raise their own profiles internationally, but what’s been interesting is how they have also started to focus more on using the association to grow and develop the game back home in China. Earlier this month, for example, FIFA announced the opening of its first ever Weibo channel, designed specifically with Chinese football fans in mind.

Expect more of this if the environment on-the-ground in Russia continues to get more challenging over the coming weeks.