Beautiful game in crisis as sponsors give FIFA red card
Three of FIFA's biggest sponsors last night revealed they had joined Sony and Emirates in abandoning football's beleaguered world governing body.
Castrol, Continental and Johnson & Johnson all confirmed that they had severed their ties with the Sepp Blatter regime when their contracts expired last year, which proved to be among the most turbulent 12 months in its scandal-hit history.
The withdrawal of support from five of the world's most recognisable brands represents a huge blow to the finances of FIFA, which nets in the region of €1 billion from its commercial partners every four years.
None of the five sponsors in question have openly cited FIFA's numerous crises as being a reason for walking away, but the departure of so many in quick succession inevitably raises questions about whether world football's govening body has now become toxic.
Sony was one of a number of its commercial backers to express concerns about allegations of wrongdoing around the awarding of the next two World Cup finals to Russia and Quatar shortly before last summer's tournament in Brazil.
FIFA's presidential election campaign will kick off after next Thursday's deadline for nominations.
Blatter is facing potential challenges from several quarters, although only vice-president Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein of Jordan appears in a position to obtain the endorsement of five national associations, which is required for candidates to be eligible to stand.
David Ginola is still trying to recover from disastrous campaign launch a week ago at which the revelation he was being paid £250,000 by a well-known bookmaker to run completely undermined the credibility of his bid.
In another blow to the beautiful game, almost 1,000 top-flight football matches are suspected to have been rigged in the past five years, according to alarming figures from the world's leading match-fixing watchdog.
Sportradar, which monitors around 40,000 games a year - including every Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League fixture - deemed 997 elite domestic global matches "highly suspicious" between May 2009 and November 2014.
An analysis of its data by Holland's Asser Institute, as part of the first study into the dangers posed by different types of betting to the integrity of sport, found that fixers were three times more likely to target top-flight matches than second-tier competitions.
Although Sportradar does not usually monitor divisions below those levels, the revelation casts doubt on the received wisdom that elite matches are under less threat than lower-league games.
Of a total of 1,625 suspicious fixtures since 2009, around a third prompted bookmakers either to partially or completely remove the betting offer on the match in question.
The analysis by the Asser Institute was made possible after Sportradar allowed the centre for European and international law access to information it had compiled since the launch of its Fraud Detection System in 2009.
That system now monitors more than 900 competitions in nine sports - including rugby union, cricket and snooker - for suspicious betting patterns, running algorithms covering hundreds of global bookmakers in a market estimated to be worth between £300 and £450 billion.
The FDS has been responsible for more than 90 arrests and 19 convictions, most notably 2013's infamous Southern Stars scandal in Australia.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)