FIFA President Sepp Blatter is resisting calls from football’s top corporate sponsors to step down immediately from his influential position. A week ago, the Swiss Attorney General opened a criminal investigation into Blatter’s conduct.
Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Budweiser and Visa, who pour hundreds of millions into sponsoring World Cup tournaments, on Friday responded to news of the criminal probe by urging Blatter to step back. Blatter, who resigned as FIFA President in June just days after winning his fifth term, has repeatedly said he will stay on at the helm until a successor is elected in February.
But sponsors appear to have had enough of the intensifying legal situation, which has now drawn Blatter directly into the spotlight of corruption allegations.
Coca-Cola was the first sponsor to demand action, stating on Friday: “For the benefit of the game the Coca-Cola company is calling for FIFA president Joseph Blatter to step down immediately so that a credible and sustainable reform process can begin in earnest.”
McDonald's echoed the call for Blatter to step down, saying it would be “in the best interest of the game”.
AB InBev, the company that owns the Budweiser beer brand that also sponsors World Cups, added its substantial weight by saying that Blatter was “an obstacle in the reform process”, while Visa also stated that football would be best served by the Swiss stepping down forthwith.
Adidas and Kia Motors were two sponsors who did not specifically call for Blatter's removal.
On September 25, the Swiss Attorney General stunned the world of football by announcing, straight after FIFA’s executive committee meeting in Zurich, that it was investigating Blatter personally on suspicion of “criminal mismanagement” and “misappropriation” of funds.
In particular, Swiss prosecutors are probing a contract signed with former head of the Caribbean Football Union for World Cup television rights.
More intriguingly, Blatter is also suspected of having made a CHF2 million ($2.05 million) “disloyal payment” in 2011 to the head of European football’s governing body UEFA, Michel Platini. Both Blatter and Platini have denied wrongdoing.
The wider Swiss investigation into suspected FIFA irregularities, including the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar, is being conducted at the same time as a separate United States criminal probe.
In May, the Swiss authorities raided FIFA headquarters and arrested several officials in a Zurich hotel. They raided FIFA HQ again on September 25.
On Monday, Blatter addressed staff at FIFA’s Zurich headquarters repeating that he had done nothing wrong.
And he appears steadfast on remaining in power despite a swathe of important sponsors withdrawing their support of his presidency on Friday.
After Coca-Cola became the first sponsor to call for Blatter’s resignation on Friday, his US-based lawyer Richard Cullen stated: “While Coca-Cola is a valued sponsor of FIFA, Mr Blatter respectfully disagrees with its position and believes firmly that his leaving office now would not be in the best interest of FIFA nor would it advance the process of reform. And, therefore, he will not resign.”
Collectively, sponsors contribute several billion dollars to FIFA events in each four-year World Cup cycle.
swissinfo.ch and agencies