Five World Cup sponsors have written to FIFA’s executive committee demanding “independent oversight” of the reform process in their latest intervention that highlights concerns about their links to world football’s scandal-battered governing body.
Sponsors were originally promised places on the FIFA reform committee. But instead of being invited into meetings discussing the overhaul of the organisation, they have been offered seats only on an advisory board which is yet to be appointed.
The sponsors’ letter was sent from Adidas, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Visa and Budweiser brewer AB InBev to FIFA’s ruling body on Tuesday ahead of meetings this week when a final slate of reform proposals will be discussed.
The reform panel was established following the indictment of nine current and former football officials by American authorities for bribery, but the sponsors appear to have reservations about its independence.
Swiss public prosecutors are also investigating the decision to award the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar, both taken at a vote in Zurich in December 2010.
“We want to stress that we are calling on you to embrace change, implement reforms, endorse a long-term independent oversight approach and initiate the cultural change because we all want to see football thrive,” the sponsors wrote to the FIFA executive committee.
The sponsors say “strengthening FIFA’s governance” is “just one step toward creating a credible future” of an organisation currently under the temporary leadership of Issa Hayatou while Switzerland’s Sepp Blatter is suspended.
“We want to emphasise to you the values and characteristics that we believe should be incorporated through the reforms,” the sponsors wrote.
“Transparency, accountability, respect for human rights, integrity, leadership and gender equality are crucial to the future of FIFA. Reforms can set the proper framework for these characteristics, but a cultural change is also needed. The culture change has to begin within FIFA and filter through to the confederations and FIFA’s football associations.”
Despite seeming side-lined by the reform talks, sponsors were praised by FIFA for “their invaluable contributions and efforts”.
“Our commercial affiliates will continue to play an important role in the reform process as it moves forward, and will help ensure the adoption and implementation of a comprehensive package of reforms,” FIFA said in a statement.
Blatter launched the reform process in June in a speech announcing his intended resignation. It was seen as a key move to show critics, including US federal prosecutors, that embattled FIFA could change its culture and behaviour.
Former International Olympic Committee official François Carrard accepted FIFA’s invitation in August to lead a team that was to include two people picked by the sponsors to join 12 more nominated by FIFA’s six continental confederations.
That promise of two seats then became a pledge to give sponsors input in a five-member advisory board Carrard said he would choose to review his panel’s work.
However, the advisory board – seen as a safety net to give oversight by experts from outside FIFA’s “football family” – has disappeared from the process.
Carrard has never announced appointments or scheduled meetings in almost four months of working with FIFA.
Setting the tone
Any reform and anti-corruption ideas that the FIFA executive committee comes up with on Thursday will be put to the congress of 209 member federations on February 26, which is also when the new president will be elected. It is unclear what input sponsors had or will have before the congress.
“The actions you take with this first round of reform proposals will set the tone for the full Congress to get behind the reform process,” the sponsors wrote to the executive committee.
Sponsors and commercial partners contributed $1.6 billion (CHF1.65 billion) of FIFA’s $5.7 billion windfall in 2011-2014, which encompassed the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
swissinfo.ch and agencies