World Cup sponsor Visa has dropped the usual diplomatic niceties to warn FIFA that it will consider cancelling its multi-million contract unless the world federation comes to grips with corruption in the ranks.
Visa issued a cautionary statement just before FIFA president Sepp Blatter summoned a meeting of the world federation’s emergency committee in his bid to regain control of a confused situation.
Previously FIFA’s main sponsors had reacted with polite expressions of mild concern at the previous scandals which have assailed FIFA until the finance corporation set out its anger at Wednesday’s turn of events in both Switzerland and New York.
However Visa took a much more publicly robust and threatening stance and other sponsors, such as Adidas, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s were not slow to follow.
Simultaneously Swiss investigators were reportedly starting to question the 10 foreign members of the current FIFA executive committee who took part in the contentious vote in December 2010 which awarded the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar respectively.
Sponsor income is significant though, at around $700m in total over four years it is far less than the $4bn generated from television right which is the most important source of FIFA revenues.
Visa said: “Our disappointment and concern with FIFA in light of today’s developments is profound. As a sponsor, we expect FIFA to take swift and immediate steps to address these issues within its organization. This starts with rebuilding a culture with strong ethical practices in order to restore the reputation of the games for fans everywhere.
“Visa became a sponsor of FIFA because the World Cup is one of the few truly global sporting events with the power to unite people from around the world through a common love of football.
“Our sponsorship has always focused on supporting the teams, enabling a great fan experience, and inspiring communities to come together and celebrate the spirit of competition and personal achievement – and it is important that FIFA makes changes now, so that the focus remain on these going forward.
“Should FIFA fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship.”
Visa is a sponsor with which FIFA takes especial care. The world federation was treated scathingly in a New York court after cancelling its contract with MasterCard so it could bring Visa on board.
The reputational damage FIFA suffered at the time led to Jerome Valcke being removed as head of marketing. However Valcke’s ‘self sacrifice’ in publicly shouldering responsibility was rewarded less than a year later when he returned to FIFA in the vastly more powerful role of secretary-general.
Adidas, which has been associated with FIFA longer than any other company first as a partner then as a formal sponsor, also took a more proactive stance than in the past.
Its own statement said: “The Adidas group is fully committed to creating a culture that promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance, and we expect the same from our partners.
“Following today’s news, we can therefore only encourage FIFA to continue to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do. Adidas is the world’s leading football brand and we will continue to support football on all levels.”
The attack on FIFA’s image in the United States from the US Justice Department revelations had clearly spurred a sharper response from McDonald’s.
The fast-food chain said: “McDonald’s takes matters of ethics and corruption very seriously and the news from the U.S. Department of Justice is extremely concerning. We are in contact with FIFA on this matter. We will continue to monitor the situation very closely.”
Longest-linked formal sponsor of FIFA is Coca-Cola which played a central role in the transformation of the commercial power of the world federation in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
It warned that this week’s events had “tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup”.
A statement added: “We have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations. We expect FIFA to continue to address these issues thoroughly. FIFA has stated that it is responding to all requests for information and we are confident it will continue to cooperate fully with the authorities.”
Blatter called the emergency committee meeting after pulling out of a scheduled appearance at a two-day medical conference. His hand was strengthened by the knowledge that, despite UEFA’s European objections, he had full backing from the Asian and African confederations.
The emergency committee comprises the FIFA president and heads of the six confederations. Hence the meeting should have been attended by UEFA president Michel Platini and Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa (AFC), Issa Hayatou (Africa) and David Chung (Oceania) plus Jeff Webb (CONCACAF) and Eugenio Figueredo (South America).
Webb and Figueredo were both unable to attend in any case, having been arrested and detained yesterday by Swiss police at the request of the US Justice Department which is seeking their extradition to face corruption charges.