Corporate sponsors of world soccer body FIFA, in a serious blow to the organization as it opens it general assembly Tuesday amid the worst corruption scandal in more than a century, have expressed concern at president Sepp Blatter’s handling of the crisis.
The sponsors’ concern could threaten FIFA’s financial situation and comes as Mr. Blatter stands as the sole candidate in a presidential election scheduled for Wednesday. Marketing rights accounted for $227 million of FIFA’s $1 billion turnover in 2009.
Mr. Blatter, who is seeking a fourth term emerged as the only candidate after Mohammed Bin Hammad, the head of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), withdrew his candidacy last Sunday hours before FIFA suspended him and three other officials on suspicion of bribery.
Sponsors warned that the corruption scandal in which nine of FIFA’s 24 executive committee members are suspected of corruption, bribery and improper behavior related to the awarding last December of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar was hurting the beautiful game. Two executive committee members were banned last year after they were taped by British newspaper The Sunday Times soliciting bribes.
“The allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport. We have every expectation that FIFA will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner,” Coca-Cola said in a statement.
Adidas warned earlier that the negative publicity as a result of Mr. Blatter’s handling of the crisis was “neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners.”
Mr. Blatter acknowledged at an acrimonious news conference that FIFA’s image has been damaged by the crisis, but denied that the organization was in crisis, saying instead that it faced “some difficulty.”
Mr. Blatter rejected calls by the British government and others for a postponement of the organization’s presidential election until the crisis is resolved. FIFA expects its investigation of the scandal to be completed in July. Mr. Bin Hammam, a Qatari national, and the other officials were suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. The outcome is expected to be disclosed in July.
Qatar returned this week to the scandal’s center stage with Mr. Blatter and FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke defending the integrity of Qatar’s successful World Cup bid. Mr. Valcke denied that an email he sent to North American and Caribbean soccer chief Jack Warner, who was suspended alongside Mr. Bin Hammam, alleged that Qatar has won its bid with bribery.
Mr. Valcke said his statement in the mail that Qatar had “bought” the world cup referred to the Gulf state’s financial muscle not the way it waged its bid campaign.
Qatar has denied any wrongdoing. Mr. Blatter said there was “no issue” with the awarding of the world’s biggest sports event to Russia and Qatar.
Referring to Mr. Warner, who released Mr. Valcke’s mail, Mr. Blatter said that he would not deal with “people who want to create problems.”
Mr. Warner is suspected of having organized a Caribbean Football Union (CFU) meeting in Trinidad earlier this month at which Mr. Bin Hammam allegedly paid CFU members $40,000 each in exchange for their votes in the presidential election.
Messrs. Bin Hammam and Warner have denied the allegations. Mr. Bin Hammam charged that the corruption allegations constituted trumped up assertions designed to force him to withdraw from the presidential race.
The FIFA ethics committee cleared Mr. Blatter on Sunday of charges that he had been aware of the Trinidad payments, but had failed to report them. The FIFA boss nonetheless was forced to defend himself against allegation that he had won the support of CONCACAF, the North American and Caribbean association headed by Mr. Warner, by donating to it $1 million as well as computers. Mr. Blatter described the gift as legitimate FIFA support for poorer soccer associations.
(James M. Dorsey is a senior researcher at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and the author of the blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer. He can be reached via email at: email@example.com)