Fifa Crisis: Visa Sponsorship Threat Compounds Calls For Blatter To Resign
Visa – one of Fifa’s key sponsors – has threatened it could pull out of its contract with football’s world governing body as Sepp Blatter faced increasing pressure not to seek re-election as its president.
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Nine senior officials at the organisation, as well as five sports media and promotions executives, were charged by US prosecutors on Wednesday over alleged bribes totalling more than $150m (£100m) over 24 years. It followed the arrest of senior officials at a Zurich hotel and the announcement of a separate Swiss investigation into the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
The accusations of “rampant, systemic and deep-rooted” corruption have sent shockwaves through the football world, with many questioning whether Fifa can continue in its current form.
Blatter has not been named as a suspect, but he faces questioning in the Swiss investigation. In a sign of the pressure he is facing, Blatter dodged an appearance at a Fifa medical conference in Zurich on Thursday morning, instead holding an emergency meeting with representatives from the six confederations, including Uefa president Michel Platini.
The European football governing body, Uefa, is meeting in the city and may threaten to boycott Fifa.
Fifa sponsors, including Adidas, Visa and Coca-Cola, are calling for the body to reform its practices. Visa issued a statement on Wednesday expressing its “disappointment and concern with Fifa”. It said that unless football’s world governing body rebuilds a corporate culture with “strong ethical practices” at its heart, “we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship”.
The credit card company’s contract with Fifa is worth at least $25 million a year.
Coca-Cola said: “This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the Fifa World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations.”
South Korean firm Hyundai Motor Company, the sole Asian Fifa partner for the 2018 World Cup to be held in Russia, said it was extremely concerned. Anheuser-Busch InBev, whose Budweiser brand is a sponsor of the 2018 World Cup, said: “We expect all of our partners to maintain strong ethical standards and operate with transparency.” McDonald’s, meanwhile, said it was monitoring the situation.
The crisis has also cast doubt over Blatter’s leadership of the body. He is seeking a fifth four-year term as president this week, but leading figures in world football have called for him to reconsider his position.
The Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona told radio station Radio La Red in Buenos Aires that his complaints about Fifa corruption had been ignored for years. “I was treated like a crazy person,” he said. “Now the FBI has told the truth. There is no soccer. There is no transparency. Enough lying to people and dinner parties to re-elect Blatter.”Diego Maradona has complained about the lack of transparency in Fifa in the wake of the arrests of senior officials. Photograph: Leonardo Munoz/EPA
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Greg Dyke, chairman of the English Football Association (FA), said that the 79-year-old needed to leave Fifa for the organisation to continue. “Sepp Blatter has to go. He either has to go through a resignation, or he has to be out-voted or we have to find a third way. I think the time has come where the damage this has done to Fifa is so great that it can’t be rebuilt while Blatter is there so Uefa has got to try to force him out.”
Uefa is however split over whether to push for a postponement of Friday’s vote, while some - including Russia and Spain - will continue to back Blatter. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on Thursday said the arrests were a “clear attempt” to block Blatter’s re-election and accused the US of meddling beyond its borders. “This is yet another blatant attempt to extend its jurisdiction to other states,” he said.FA chairman Greg Dyke calls for new leadership at Fifa
Blatter was, however, bolstered by the Asian Football Confederation and the Confederation of African Football, which both said they would back his bid for another term as president.
Michel Platini, the head of Uefa, is due to give a press conference on Thursday afternoon.
Former FA chairman Lord Triesman, who resigned from football administration after making allegations of bribery around the 2010 world cup, said on Thursday he doubted Blatter would ever consider resigning since he could rely on electoral alliance of football associations in Asia, Africa and South America to keep him in power.
“That’s what he’ll do, into his 90s,” Triesman said. “I don’t think this will be the last time Sepp Blatter runs, assuming, as I think we must, that he’ll run again in the next couple of days.”
But he added that the events of the past 36 hours had produced a confluence of factors that might be able to change the course of football’s governing body. “Were Europe to say we have had enough of this, we’re not going to take part in these congresses, we possibly won’t take part in the competitions, that would be an enormous effect.”
He added: “I would want Uefa to withdraw from the main functions of Fifa until it had been demonstrably cleaned up.”
“Secondly I think the Swiss government needs to think that it has on its soil organisations that are riven with criminality. I does nothing for the credit of Switzerland and international organisations.
“And the third thing is the sponsors. These are worldwide brands. I cannot conceive over all of these years why they would have wanted to be associated with the kind of degradation that we’ve seen. These things will come together.”
Related: Fifa corruption charges: is this the beginning of the end for the house that Sepp Blatter built?
Nike, which sponsored the Brazil national team, said it is cooperating with authorities after the US indictment claimed that in 1996 a global sports company sponsoring the Brazilian national team agreed to financial terms not in the initial contract, including paying an additional $40m to an affiliate of the team’s marketing agent with a Swiss bank account.
In a statement, the company said: “Like fans everywhere, we care passionately about the game and are concerned by the very serious allegations. Nike believes in ethical and fair play in both business and sport and strongly opposes any form of manipulation or bribery. We have been cooperating, and will continue to cooperate, with the authorities.”
World Cup sponsors are in an awkward position because they are under pressure from consumers to distance themselves from any corruption, but such sponsorships are lucrative in the long term.
John Whittingdale, the British culture, media and sport secretary, told parliament that sponsors should follow the lead of Visa and “reflect on their links to Fifa”. He said Blatter should quit Fifa as the “deeply flawed and corrupt organisation” needed a change of leadership. The British prime minister, David Cameron, backed calls for Blatter to resign.British culture secretary calls for urgent wide-ranging reform at Fifa
Don't suppose our mistrusted leader has done the right thing and pulled out of the FIFA presidential election on Friday? No, didn't think so— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) May 27, 2015
The UK government will now write to other European sports ministers, setting out its concerns and seeking their support, Whittingdale said. The UK will also make information available to US prosecutors, while British authorities would no doubt be looking at the allegations to see whether laws have been broken in this country, he added.
Related: How Sepp Blatter won the hearts and minds of Africa to ride out Fifa storms
Australian football chiefs, who failed in their bid to secure the 2022 World Cup, on Thursday said they were following the case. “The Australian delegation will review the developments involving Swiss and US law enforcement authorities over the conduct of Fifa officials,” the Football Federation of Australia (FFA) said on Thursday.
However, one Australian politician went further, saying the country had been “treated like a mug” over the host selection process.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon said: “There must be a reopening of that bid. It’s not too late. At the very least Australia deserves a refund.
“Really, Australia has been treated like a mug in the way that it spent tens of millions of dollars in a failed bid, where it never had a chance because it seems the fix was in early on with Fifa.”
Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, has made a pointed call for the next president of Fifa to ensure any future World Cup hosts comply with fundamental human rights norms. Russia, which is hosting the 2018 competition, and 2022 host Qatar have both come under fire for abuses.