Sponsors voice concerns over FIFA corruption allegations
Issued on: Modified:
A growing number of FIFA sponsors, including Budweiser beer, Adidas, Sony and Visa, have voiced concerns over allegations of corruption surrounding the awarding of the 2022 tournament to Qatar.
The calls, which have been growing since Sunday, came as former US prosecutor Michael Garcia was due to finish an investigation on behalf of FIFA, soccer's ruling body, into the decisions to hold the Cup to tiny Qatar in 2022 and Russia in 2018.
With the World Cup kicking off in soccer's spiritual home Brazil this week, FIFA is struggling to contain the fallout from claims that bribery helped Qatar to secure the showpiece event.
Garcia is due to submit his report to FIFA in around six weeks' time - roughly a week after the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro on July 13.
If he finds that there was corruption involved, soccer officials say Qatar could be stripped of the 2022 Cup.
Both Qatar and Russia have denied any wrongdoing.
Qatar's bid, in particular, has been the subject of media leaks alleging that the former head of soccer in Asia, a Qatari, bribed colleagues around the world to help secure the bid.
The former official, Mohamed Bin Hammam, has declined to comment. He has been banned from football for life over separate corruption allegations.
Sponsors who pay hundreds of millions of dollars for the "halo effect" of associating their brand with the World Cup have broken with protocol and publicly demanded that FIFA get to the bottom of the corruption claims.
"We are concerned about the situation and are monitoring developments; we expect FIFA to take all necessary steps to address the issue," brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev said in a statement. Its Budweiser beer has signed up as a World Cup tournament sponsor until 2022.
No soccer tradition in Qatar
Qatar's bid has attracted controversy from the outset because of the extreme summer heat during the months when the Cup is played, and the tiny country's lack of a domestic soccer tradition.
If it goes ahead, the tournament is expected to be switched to a date later in the year, creating costly scheduling headaches for broadcasters and European soccer clubs.
Sony, Adidas, Visa, Coca-Cola and Hyundai, all members of the top tier of FIFA sponsors, spoke out on Sunday in favour of a thorough investigation of bribery claims. Of the top-tier sponsors, only Qatari carrier Emirates airlines was silent.
It is unusual for sponsors to say anything publicly on such a sensitive issue. All of the sponsors had kept resolutely quiet until Sunday.
Scores of international soccer delegates are assembling in Brazil ahead of the World Cup for a FIFA congress, at which its long-serving chief, Sepp Blatter, is expected to announce he is seeking another term. Blatter has made clear he voted against Qatar's bid and preferred to hold the 2022 World Cup in the United States.
"The negative tenor of the public debate around FIFA at the moment is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners," said German sportswear company Adidas, which has signed up as FIFA sponsor until 2030, extending a partnership dating back to 1970.
FIFA’s huge advertising income
FIFA, which Blatter has led since 1998, earned almost $1.4 billion last year, including more than $600 million from the sale of broadcasting rights and more than $400 million from sponsors and other marketing partners.
"If FIFA is being seen as corrupt or poorly governed, then this image begins to transfer on to sponsors," said Simon Chadwick, professor of sport business strategy and marketing at Coventry University in central England.
Football’s popularity around the globe makes it hard for sponsors to turn their back on the game because rivals will swiftly move in to replace them, added Chadwick.
(FRANCE 24 with Reuters)