Soccer Scandal

Sponsors Attack the Football King

Sepp Blatter in profile. Source: dpa
Many see Sepp Blatter as a dark figure in the world of soccer.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    If Sepp Blatter refuses to resign, European footballing associations may try to force him out.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • The U.S. authorities have arrested several FIFA officials as part of a wide ranging inquiry into corruption.
    • Sepp Blatter has not been charged.
    • Mr. Blatter cancelled a scheduled appearance on Thursday.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

The pressure on Sepp Blatter, the president of football’s embattled and discredited governing body FIFA, continued to mount on Thursday as vital sponsors including Visa and Adidas joined in the attack against his organization.

A day after law enforcers in the United States and Switzerland launched a co-ordinated attack on FIFA, several of the biggest sponsors in the sport warned FIFA they would pull their sponsorship unless the corruption that has tainted the sport is wiped out.

Visa, in particular, was especially critical.  “Our disappointment and concern with Fifa is profound,” the company said in a statement. “As a sponsor, we expect FIFA to take swift and immediate steps to address these issues within its organization…Should FIFA fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship.”

Other sponsors were gentler, but still made it clear they expected change.

Germany’s Adidas, which provided the kit to both World Cup finalists Germany and Brazil in the summer of 2014, said in a statement it was “fully committed to creating a culture that promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance, and we expect the same from our partners” and would “encourage FIFA to continue to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do.”

“There is no way of re-building trust in Fifa while Sepp Blatter is still there.”

Greg Dyke, Chairman, English Football Association

The threats from FiFA’s big sponsors could spell serious trouble for Mr. Blatter this time. The president, who has been at the center of several controversies over the years, now hopes to cling to his job despite the arrest of several of his deputies and colleagues who are being charged with corruption.

Mr. Blatter cancelled a scheduled appearance at a Zurich FIFA medical conference on Thursday morning but made no comment about his own position.

His power within FIFA depends largely on the way he has turned soccer into a lucrative multi-billion dollar industry, largely with the help of large corporate sponsors.

The FIFA business model is simple: Almost half its revenues come from television rights to the FIFA World Cup, and the rest comes from marketing rights and licences. Strong, loyal sponsors like Adidas, which has been a FIFA partner for 45 years and recently extended its contract until 2030, are a key cornerstone of his strategy. If they lose faith in him, his power could vanish.

The website of Zurich-based FIFA lists five marketing partners for the 2018 World Cup in Russia: Adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa, OAO Gazprom, Hyundai Motor Co. and its Kia Motors Corp. affiliate. Anheuser-Busch InBev NV’s Budweiser and McDonald’s are also sponsors of the tournament.

 

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Coca-Cola added its voice to the discontent. “This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the Fifa World Cup,” the company said in a statement. “We expect Fifa to continue to address these issues thoroughly.”

On Wednesday, Swiss police arrested seven FIFA officials in dawn raids at a Zurich hotel. Investigators also raided the organization’s Zurich offices and carried off boxes of records and data.

On the same day in the United States, the Department of Justice indicted 14 men on charges of racketeering, conspiracy and corruption.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, delivered a damning verdict on the FIFA officials.

“These individuals and organizations engaged in bribery to decide who would televise games, where the games would be held, and who would run the organization overseeing organized soccer worldwide,”  she said in a press conference.  “They did this over and over, year after year, tournament after tournament.”

Mr. Blatter has so far dodged law enforcers combing through the FIFA organization in search of officials breaking the rules.

At a press conference on Wednesday, his spokesman,Walter de Gregorio, insisted the raids had “nothing to do with him.”

Mr. Blatter is seeking re-election for an unprecedented fifth term in office and FIFA insists the vote, due on Friday, will still take place.

 

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Jordanian Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein will be running against Mr. Blatter in the elections.

Mr. Blatter still has the backing of African and Asian footballing federations. But the powerful European soccer association UEFA, backs Mr. Al Hussein.

Its general secretary, Gianni Infantino, said in a statement: “Uefa believes that the FIFA congress should be postponed and that the election for the president should take place within six months.”

The English Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, was particularly critical of Mr. Blatter. “There is no way of re-building trust in Fifa while Sepp Blatter is still there,” he said in a radio interview.

“Sepp Blatter has to go. He either has to go through a resignation, or he has to be out-voted or we have to find a third way. I think the time has come where the damage this has done to FIFA is so great that it can’t be re-built while Blatter is there, so Uefa has got to try to force him out.”

German Football Association president Wolfgang Niersbach has made his dislike for Blatter clear in the past,  saying openly be believes FIFA needs a change at the top. “What’s happening in Zurich, days ahead of the FIFA congress, is shocking and harmful for the whole of football,” he said in a statment.

Controversy has swirled around Mr. Blatter for years in relation to the decision to award the World Cup to South Africa in 2010, his re-election in 2011 and several lucrative marketing deals. These were long before the new wave of allegations that FIFA officials were offered kickbacks in return for supporting Russia’s bid to host the tournament in 2018 and Qatar in 2022.

Russian president Vladimir Putin  accused the U.S. Thursday of embarking on a politically motivated attack on FIFA. “Those officials are not US citizens. If something happened it was not in the US and it’s nothing to do with them,” he said on Russian television.

“I have no doubt that this is yet another evident attempt to derail Mr. Blatter’s re-election as FIFA president. We are aware of the pressure that he was subjected to in relation to Russia holding the 2018 World Cup.”

Theo Zwanziger, 69, who headed the German Football Association until 2012 and is retiring from FIFA’s executive committee, told Handelsblatt he didn’t believe the arrests and the allegations would threaten Mr. Blatter’s re-election. “There are no allegations of corruption against Sepp Blatter, even after Wednesday’s events,” he said. “I trust him not to be involved. He is too intelligent. But we will have to see how FIFA responds to the arrests at their meeting on Friday.”

Mr. Zwanziger added: “I hope the events will now be fully investigated and we get clarity quickly. I really regret the fact that FIFA has now become so known for corruption and not football.”

 

Meera Selva is an editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. Ton contact the author: selva@handelsblatt.com. Holger Alich, Diana Frölich, Moritz Kochh and Christian Wermke also contributed to this article.

 

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