NEW YORK/ZURICH (Reuters) – Major soccer sponsors on Friday issued the strongest calls yet for the immediate resignation of FIFA president Sepp Blatter, a week after Swiss authorities said they were opening a criminal investigation into the head of the world soccer body.
In quick succession on Friday companies that have long linked their brand names to the global sport – Coca-Cola Co, McDonald’s, Budweiser owner Anheuser-Busch InBev and Visa – demanded Blatter step down in a strong push for change at the organisation.
But almost as quickly, Blatter’s U.S. lawyer Richard Cullen countered that Blatter would not resign, setting the stage for a battle over who should take the helm in the next few months before February when elections are set for a new FIFA president.
Blatter said he believed leaving office would not be in FIFA’s best interest or advance needed reforms of the organisation.
The sponsors have the opposite view.
AB InBev said it has been “actively engaged” in the FIFA reform process as part of a group of sponsors that also includes Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Visa.
“Every day that passes, the image and reputation of FIFA continues to tarnish,” Coca Cola said. “FIFA needs comprehensive and urgent reform, and that can only be accomplished through a truly independent approach.”
Shortly after McDonald’s followed suit with its own statement.
“The events of recent weeks have continued to diminish the reputation of FIFA and public confidence in its leadership,” McDonald’s said in an emailed statement. “FIFA President Sepp Blatter to step down immediately so that the reform process can proceed with the credibility that is needed.”
Then AB InBev joined the call for an immediate resignation and Sky News reported Visa had also done so.
Last Friday, the Swiss Office of the Attorney General said it opened a criminal investigation into Blatter on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation of funds.
It was the first time that authorities investigating corruption in the world’s most popular sport had pointed the finger directly at Blatter, the 79-year-old Swiss who has run its powerful governing body for the past 17 years.
He has denied wrongdoing and his U.S. attorney said he was cooperating with the Swiss probe.
FIFA’s awarding of the 2018 and 2022 competitions to Russia and Qatar is one of the strands under scrutiny from U.S. and Swiss authorities investigating corruption in the organisation – a worry for tournament sponsors such as McDonald’s Corp, Coca-Cola and Visa.
The scandal exploded in May, when 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives were indicted on U.S. charges of racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud in relations to bribery schemes that dated back decades.
(Reporting by Simon Evans in Zurich and Mica Rosenberg in New York; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Grant McCool)
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