World Soccer Sponsors Express Concern as FIFA Is Engulfed by Scandal

May 31 (Bloomberg) -- FIFA President Sepp Blatter defended himself and said soccer’s governing body isn’t in “crisis” after two of its most senior executives were suspended in a corruption scandal.

“Crisis, what is a crisis?” Blatter told reporters at a fractious press conference in Zurich yesterday. “We are not in a crisis, only some difficulties.”

The Zurich-based soccer body, which gets $4 billion from its quadrennial World Cup tournament, on May 29 suspended Mohamed Bin Hammam, the Qatari head of soccer in Asia, and FIFA Vice President Jack Warner, two of the longest-serving executive committee members. They’re accused of trying to bribe Caribbean officials with $40,000 in cash each to vote for Bin Hammam over Blatter in FIFA’s presidential election.

The scandal has caused disquiet among FIFA’s sponsors, including Coca-Cola Co. (KO), Emirates airline and Adidas AG. Coca- Cola said the “current allegations being raised are distressing and bad for the sport.”

Blatter, 75, said he expected the election to go ahead tomorrow even after Bin Hammam’s decision on May 29 to stand down, and amid calls from government officials in the U.K. and Australia for it to be called off. England’s Football Association, which had already decided to abstain in the election, today called for the vote to be postponed. Blatter is running for a fourth four-year term.

He twice rebuked members of the media yesterday after being heckled for not answering questions. He refused to say whether he backed Jerome Valcke, FIFA’s general secretary.

Not a Bazaar

Valcke confirmed he’d sent an e-mail to Warner saying Qatar “bought” the 2022 World Cup when it beat competitors including the U.S. to sports most-watched tournament. Valcke later issued a statement saying he meant Qatar used its vast resources to “to heavily promote their bid all around the world in a very efficient manner.”

“Listen gentlemen, I accepted to have a press conference with you alone here,” Blatter said. “I respect you. Please respect me. We are not in a bazaar here, we are in FIFA House.”

Qatar denied claims that it bought votes from FIFA members before it was the surprise selection to host the World Cup. Blatter said there were no grounds to revisit the bidding.

“I believe that the decision which we took for the World Cup 2022 was done exactly in the same pattern and environment that we have made the decision in 2018,” he said.

The corruption scandal has put FIFA’s sponsors on edge, the head of European sponsorship at former FIFA partner MasterCard Inc. said.

‘Edge of Our Chairs’

“What I certainly see is that it has certainly woken a few people up and it puts us always on the edge of our chairs to ensure that when we do these partnerships we look at the whole package,” Paul Meulendijk, head of sponsorship at MasterCard Europe, said in an interview in London.

Amid its concerns, Coca-Cola, the world’s largest soft- drink maker, said it had “every expectation that FIFA will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.”

Adidas AG (ADS), the second-largest sporting-goods maker, said “the negative tenor of the public debate around FIFA at the moment is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners.”

Emirates, the world’s biggest airline by international traffic, said the company, “ like all football fans around the world, is disappointed with the issues that are currently surrounding the administration of this sport.”

It hoped these issues “will be resolved as soon as possible and the outcome will be in the interest of the game and sport in general.”

Major Change

Patrick Nally, a consultant who brokered Coca-Cola’s original deal with FIFA in 1976, said the crisis is similar to one that engulfed the International Olympic Committee over a bribery scandal that centered on Salt Lake City’s bid for the 2002 Winter Games. Several officials were expelled and the IOC was forced to strengthen its ethics code.

“Is this a moment when major change has to come? They’ve got absolutely no choice -- it has to come,” Nally said in an interview.”

FIFA has faced several allegations since the vote on the 2018 and 2022 events. Former English Football Association chairman David Triesman said four voters, including Warner, had engaged in “unethical and improper” behavior in the voting for the 2018 World Cup, which was won by Russia. The Sunday Times newspaper made separate claims against Qatar, saying it bribed two officials with $1.5 million. Blatter said an inquiry failed to prove any wrongdoing.

Qatar, Bin Hammam, Warner and the accused men deny the allegations.

Personalities

Blatter said he could vouch only for his own conduct, not that of the others that sit on FIFA’s decision-making body. He also promised to strengthen FIFA’s disciplinary mechanism.

“I have to deal with personalities that are there and I deal with them and I try to do the best out of it,” he said, explaining that he doesn’t select the officials, who are voted onto the executive committee by their regional governing bodies.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tariq Panja in Zurich at tpanja@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net.

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