Has Rafa Márquez scored an own goal in managing his reputation?

Rafa Márquez, Mexico’s World Cup Captain, made history as the third player ever to have participated in five World Cups.  However, this impressive feat was overshadowed by his inclusion is a far less flattering list: one drawn up by the U.S. Treasury Department, in particular the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), of people who have allegedly assisted in drug cartels’ money-laundering activities.  His foundation “Fútbol y Corazón” has also been blacklisted for the same reason and he has since kept a very low profile.

As a consequence, rather than being hailed as a soccer legend, he is being shunned.  American businesses, banks and individuals are staying well away from him:  he cannot travel to matches aboard a US-owned plane carrier; he practices with a different uniform than the rest of the Mexican team so that no Coca-Cola logo appears on his chest; does not drink from the same Powerade water bottles as the rest of his team; has no chance of being named Budweiser Man of the Match (a prize he was awarded at the last World Cup); and any interview must not be before the usual sponsor-plastered board with the Visa, McDonalds and Coca-Cola logos.

Márquez has denied the allegations and has hired a legal team to challenge his placement on the OFAC list and attempt to ease sponsors’ concerns.  This seems to have been enough for German brands Adidas and Puma, neither of which has dropped Márquez as their poster boy, but not for US companies such as Nike and Procter & Gamble.

Other prominent sportsmen, such as Tiger Woods or Michael Phelps, have paid dearly for scandals stemming from much less serious matters, such as extra-marital affairs (Woods) or smoking marijuana (Phelps).  Indeed, when faced with something as serious as being linked to a drug lord, it is important to act fast in order to contain the reputational damage.  For the time being, Márquez has merely denied the allegations and requested OFAC that he be removed from the list.

As discussed in our piece on Unexplained Wealth Orders an individual or company’s reputation can be seriously damaged and public perception negatively altered even by association with unsavoury matters such as drug cartels and money-laundering.  Until the OFAC removal review process has taken place, Márquez should raise his voice louder, so that he ensures his standpoint and defence receive as much coverage and attention as his inclusion on the OFAC list has.  His foundation, which has been lying low, should do the same. Not speaking out or allowing allegation to go unchallenged can lead rumour and speculation to become fact.

While Márquez’s situation has clearly not affected the outcome of the USA, Mexico and Canada joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup, it has certainly dented what could have been a celebrated farewell from the soccer global stage.

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