Friday 15 December 2017

Sponsors threaten to blow whistle on $1.6bn deals

The FIFA logo at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland
The FIFA logo at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland
Sepp Blatter

Luke Heighton in Zurich

World football's most powerful sponsors added their voices to the growing chorus of disapproval aimed at Fifa yesterday, as Visa, Coca-Cola and Adidas said they would consider whether to continue their financial support.

McDonald's, Budweiser, Hyundai, and Nike also issued statements appearing to criticise world football's governing body as incumbent president Sepp Blatter faces losing sponsorship deals worth up to $1.6bn (€1.4bn) over the next decade.

Adidas, based in southern Germany, has supplied the official match ball for every Fifa World Cup tournament since 1970, but is now understood to be reconsidering its position.

Coca-Cola, one of Fifa's most recognisable and valuable corporate partners, has bought advertising space at World Cups since 1950, but relations between the two now appear close to breaking point.

Its statement read: "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 car manufacturer Hyundai, Fifa's only Asian partner for the 2018 World Cup, said it was "extremely concerned" by developments.

Visa, arguably the world's best-known credit card company, was expected to continue its relationship until at least 2022. That deal, worth some $25m (€23m) per year, is now under pressure.

On Wednesday, the firm suggested it might break from Fifa altogether in a strongly-worded statement expressing its "disappointment and concern".

It added: "We have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship."

Budweiser, a key sponsor since the 1994 World Cup in the US also expressed its dissatisfaction.

A statement by parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev read: "We expect all of our partners to maintain strong ethical standards and operate with transparency."

McDonald's said that it was "monitoring the situation".

The European Sponsorship Association said the developments over the last 24 hours underlined the "critical importance of transparency and high ethical standards in sport and in business".

It warned sponsors did not want to be associated with alleged "shady practices" and were "increasingly asking rights owners tough questions on a range of compliance and corporate social responsibility issues".

The views of the sponsors are not something Fifa can ignore, as the sponsors provide almost a third of its revenue.

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