ZURICH: Leading sponsors of FIFA have offered a guarded response to the arrests of several of the global footballing organisation's officials on charges of corruption and the opening of an investigation into how the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were awarded.
The most outspoken reaction came from Visa, the financial services business, which talked of its "profound" disappointment and warned that unless changes were made "we will reassess our sponsorship", PR Week reported.
Adidas, the sportswear company, said it expected from its partners the same high standards of ethics and compliance the brand itself promoted, while fast food operator McDonald's described the news as "concerning" and said it was monitoring the situation.
Soft drinks giant Coca-Cola, reminded observers that it had "repeatedly" expressed concerns about the corruption allegations that have surrounded the organisation's handling of the bidding process for the next two World Cups, and in particular the 2022 tournament due to be held in Qatar.
"We expect FIFA to continue to address these issues thoroughly," it said, echoing its statement last November when FIFA declined to publish the results of an investigation into claims that bribes were made in order to win the right to host the World Cup.
But these companies are unlikely to move beyond words, according to Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist from Smith College. "The large majority of sponsors will hang in there," he told Sky News. "Most sponsors who were putting money into FIFA knew about FIFA's problems, so this was not new for them."
Zimbalist has also recently published a book, Circus Maximus, which charts the rise of FIFA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to their current prominence. This, he argues, has been achieved by exploiting television and product sponsorship to turn their competitions into primarily commercial events.
Even if one accepts this position, it is also the case, says Alan Pascoe, former Olympic athlete and head of The Partnership Consultancy, that in sports sponsorship, brands are moving from a transactional relationship to one based on an authentic alignment of values.
Writing in Market Leader, Pascoe said: "The advantage of partnerships in sport is that it is a common language, marketing to people's passions – usually in their own leisure time – creating bespoke and individual engagement with target audiences."
Data sourced from PR Week, Sky News, Guardian; additional content by Warc staff