Allegations of corruption at Fifa, the organisation that runs world soccer, are giving its financial sponsors increasing headaches, with only three days to go before the start of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
All but one of the half-dozen official ‘partners’ of Fifa have now voiced public concern about the repeated and increasingly detailed allegations, most notably by the UK’s Sunday Times, that the Qatar football federation practised bribery on a huge scale to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup.
Zurich-based Fifa has suspended its own internal inquiry into the matter until after the tournament in an effort to keep international media attention concentrated on its showcase event.
It was unavailable for comment Monday due to a public holiday in Switzerland. However, Reuters reported its President Sepp Blatter later as rebutting the allegations in remarks to reporters.
“Once again there is a sort of storm against Fifa relating to the Qatar World Cup,” Reuters reported Blatter as saying, without identifying who he was talking about. “Sadly there’s a great deal of discrimination and racism and this hurts me.”
The Sunday Times’ latest allegations had carried little weight as long as they were perceived as being fed by sour grapes from the English Football Association, which had also bid to host the 2022 tournament.
But with media around the world now picking up on its increasingly detailed revelations, the organisation’s backers are starting to fret at being associated with it. Fifa is set to receive some $4 billion in broadcasting and sponsorship rights for the tournament.
Sony (SNE) was the first to break ranks on Sunday, saying that “we expect these allegations to be investigated appropriately, and that we continue to expect FIFA to adhere to its principles of integrity, ethics and fair play across all aspects of its operations.”
It was followed by German sportswear giant Adidas AG (ADDYY) which said in a statement that: “the negative tenor of the public debate around Fifa at the moment is neither good for football nor for Fifa and its partners,” although it said it was “confident that the matter is being dealt with as a priority.”
Card payments firm Visa (V) issued a similar comment, while Coca Cola Inc. (KO) said that “Anything that detracts from the mission and ideals of the Fifa World Cup is a concern to us.”
Fifa’s ‘Partners’ are its long-term, core backers who contribute the most to its coffers. They are followed by event-specific sponsors and its national ‘supporters’. The partnerships tend to run for extremely long terms, reflecting the value of the publicity that they bring. Adidas’ contract with Fifa runs through 2030, while that of Korean carmaker Hyundai/Kia Motors, for example, runs through 2022.
“We are confident that FIFA is taking these allegations seriously and that the Investigatory Chamber of the FIFA Ethics Committee will conduct a thorough investigation,” Hyundai/Kia (HYMTF) said Monday.