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Business

FIFA sponsors shocked by graft scandal

Credit card company VISA has threatened to ditch its sponsorship deal with FIFA after officials of the soccer world body were arrested on bribery charges. The move is the latest reflecting growing sponsors' concerns.

The world's largest credit and debit card company, VISA, has expressed "profound disappointment and concern" with FIFA after a number of the soccer association's high-ranking officials were arrested Wednesday on charges of corruption and bribery.

"As a sponsor, we expect FIFA to take swift and immediate steps to address these issues within its organization," VISA said in a statement released Thursday.

The company, which became a FIFA partner in 2007 and just recently extended the relationship until 2022, also threatened to end its sponsorship deal with FIFA if the soccer world governing body did not act fast to restore the reputation of the game.

"This starts with rebuilding a culture with strong ethical practices," the statement read, adding: "Should FIFA fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship."

US prosecutors issued an indictment on Wednesday accusing nine FIFA officials and five sports media and promotions executives of accepting bribes of more than $150 million (137 million euros) over 24 years.

Sponsors call for action

The statement from VISA was the most stinging rebuke from FIFA's sponsors so far, but other financial supporters of the body have expressed their concern, too.

German sportswear company Adidas called on FIFA to "establish and follow" transparent compliance standards "in everything they do."

"The Adidas group is fully committed to creating a culture that promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance, and we expect the same from our partners," Adidas said in an emailed statement on Wednesday.

US beverage giant Coca-Cola said Thursday that the corruption scandal had "tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup," adding that the company had "repeatedly expressed our concerns about the serious allegations."

South Korean automaker Hyundai Motor, the sole Asian FIFA partner for the 2018 World Cup due to be held in Russia, also said it was "extremely concerned" about the legal proceedings against FIFA executives.

Brewing company Anheuser-Busch InBev, which produces Budweiser beer, and fast-food chain McDonald's said they were in contact with FIFA and were monitoring the situation.

Sepp Blatter

FIFA President Sepp Blatter is at the center of the corruption scandal. Although he is not indicted by US prosecutors, questions about what he knew of the bribes and whether he's backed them remain.

Nike on the wrong side?

Wednesday's US indictment said that a global sports company, which was not identified in court documents, in 1996 agreed to pay $160 million over 10 years to become the Brazil team's exclusive footwear, apparel, accessories and equipment supplier. That was an apparent reference to Nike, which sponsors the Brazil national team.

The indictment also said the company agreed to financial terms not in the initial contract, which included paying an additional $40 million in "marketing fees" to an affiliate of the team's marketing agent with a Swiss bank account.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Wednesday declined to comment when asked if the company was Nike. She also refused to say if there was any liability for companies that had won marketing rights and if they were being investigated. But she said "the investigation is continuing and covers all aspects."

Nike said it was cooperating with authorities, adding in a statement: "Like fans everywhere, we care passionately about the game and are concerned by the very serious allegations."

Sponsors retreat unlikely

FIFA's public accounts shows it received a total of $177 million in 2014 from its long-term partners - Adidas, Coca-Cola, Emirates airline, Hyundai, Sony and VISA - and $131 million from sponsors of the World Cup.

In spite of the scandal though, analysts believe that sponsors are unlikely to sever their ties with FIFA. Jez Frampton, Chief Executive of Interbrand marketing group, told the news agency Reuters that companies wouldn't be prepared to pay so much for sponsorship deals if their value wasn't so high.

"Football is one of the few global properties that enables you to connect with people around the world," he said.

And Rob Prazmark, president of 21 Sports & Entertainment Marketing Group, told the same news agency that since sponsors were putting a lot of money into associating with the World Cup, they would "give them a little bit of time to get their house in order."

uhe/pad (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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