SportSoccer

FIFA sponsor threatens to quit over corruption scandal

SoccerBy Sunday World
If the sponsors begin to turn away then FIFA will be in real trouble
If the sponsors begin to turn away then FIFA will be in real trouble

Fifa is facing the collapse of lucrative World Cup sponsorship deals following the darkest day in its history which saw senior officials arrested on suspicion of "rampant" corruption.

Visa threatened to break off its contract while other global brands such as Nike, adidas and Budweiser issued strongly-worded statements putting pressure on Fifa to take immediate action to restore its tattered reputation.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter is under heavy pressure to resign before tomorrow's planned leadership election in Zurich after US investigators blew the lid yesterday on decades of "rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted'' corruption.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said a UK politician in the same position as Mr Blatter "would be struggling to cling on".

"There's no doubt, and there's been no doubt for many years, that Fifa needs to clean up its act," he told Sky News.

"There are millions, perhaps billions, of football fans around the world who want to enjoy the game, who want to know that the game is clean and who are repeatedly frustrated about these allegations about the way that international football is run.

"It looks very much like it's going to be the commercial sponsors who use their power to insist that this happens."

Visa said its "disappointment and concern" was "profound" as it warned Fifa to begin changes immediately.

It said: "Our sponsorship has always focused on supporting the teams, enabling a great fan experience, and inspiring communities to come together and celebrate the spirit of competition and personal achievement - and it is important that Fifa makes changes now, so that the focus remain on these going forward.

"Should Fifa fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship."

Football Association chairman Greg Dyke insisted Mr Blatter "has to go as Fifa president", while former England striker Gary Lineker said "enough is enough" and called for the presidential elections to be postponed.

Mr Dyke said: "Blatter has put out a statement saying now is the time to start rebuilding the trust in Fifa. There is no way of rebuilding trust in Fifa while Sepp Blatter is still there.

"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 rebuilt while Blatter is there, so Uefa (European football's governing body) has got to try to force him out."

Match Of The Day presenter Lineker told the Daily Mirror: "If any other organisation on the planet was found to be as corrupt as Fifa, then the man at the top would go. But

Blatter has his own fiefdom and he seems immune to it."

Football's world governing body was put under the spotlight when nine football officials, including two Fifa vice-presidents, were arrested on suspicion of bribery, fraud and money-laundering charges following an FBI investigation.

The US Department of Justice indictment of 18 people said bribes totalling more than 150 million US dollars (£98 million) had been paid for television rights, sponsorship deals and World Cup votes.

The crisis led Uefa to call for tomorrow's Fifa presidential election to be postponed and it questioned whether its 53 voting associations should even attend the Congress.

In a separate development, the Swiss attorney general also opened criminal proceedings over the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, seized documents and electronic data from Fifa's headquarters, and will question 10 current Fifa executive committee members who voted on that tournament.

The arrests began at 6am yesterday as Swiss police swooped on the five-star hotel used by Fifa executives and arrested seven officials including Jeffrey Webb, a Fifa vice-president from the Cayman Islands who holds a British passport.

Another Fifa vice-president, Eugenio Figueredo from Uruguay, was also arrested and Swiss officials said six of the seven are contesting extradition proceedings to the US to answer indictments.

US attorney general Loretta Lynch said: "The indictment alleges corruption that is rampant, systemic, and deep-rooted both abroad and in the US.

"It spans at least two generations of soccer officials who, as alleged, abused their positions of trust to acquire millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks."

FBI director James Comey said: "As charged in the indictment, the defendants fostered a culture of corruption and greed that created an uneven playing field for the biggest sport in the world. Undisclosed and illegal payments, kickbacks, and bribes became a way of doing business at Fifa."

The indictments implicate South Africa in paying 10 million US dollars (£6.5 million) to disgraced former Fifa vice-president Jack Warner from Trinidad for votes to host the 2010 World Cup - with the money being channelled through a Fifa bank account authorised by an unnamed high-ranking Fifa official.

It also alleges corruption and bribery extended to the 2011 Fifa presidential election, and to agreements regarding sponsorship of the Brazilian national team by a major US sportswear company.

Nike has sponsored Brazil since 1996 and said it opposes bribery and is co-operating with the authorities.

A warrant was issued for Mr Warner's arrest in Trinidad and he is facing an extradition hearing to the USA. His two sons have pleaded guilty to corruption charges while former Fifa executive Chuck Blazer, who is believed to have provided much of the evidence to the FBI, has admitted 10 charges.

Mr Warner later handed himself in to authorities in Trinidad and was released on 2.5 million US dollars (£1.63 million) bail pending an extradition hearing, according to a statement from Trinidad's attorney general.

Uefa said the events were "a disaster for Fifa" and called for a change of leadership. A statement added: "These events show, once again, that corruption is deeply rooted in Fifa's culture."