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Italy's national soccer player Gabriel Paletta controls the ball as Sony advertising banner is seen during a training session ahead of the 2014 World Cup at the Portobello training center in Mangaratiba June 10, 2014. Sponsors Adidas , Sony, Visa and Coca-Cola on Sunday called on soccer's rulers to deal thoroughly with allegations of bribery to secure the 2022 World Cup for Qatar, an issue overshadowing this week's kickoff in Brazil.
Quartz illustration, Reuters/Alessandro Garofalo
PENALTY BOX

Are big corporate backers finally abandoning FIFA over corruption?

By Tim Fernholz

With Sony’s decision not to renew its sponsorship of the World Cup, could it be that the world’s most controversial sporting association is finally feeling the heat over decades of corruption allegations?

FIFA, the international body that governs the sport of soccer and runs the World Cup tournaments, has been the subject of corruption allegations for years, but because it is a private organization headquartered in Switzerland and managing a beloved global sport, it has faced little consequence. After a recent decision to schedule the world cup in Qatar during its blazing hot summer, journalists found evidence of vote-trading and bribery under executive director Sepp Blatter.

FIFA has denied these rumors, and hired a former US prosecutor, Michael Garcia, to lead an internal investigation. However, FIFA declined to release his report, instead offering its own summary, which according to Garcia contains “numerous materially incomplete and erroneous representations of the facts and conclusions.”

Apparently that open conflict was enough for corporate sponsors to finally wonder if their brands are being enhanced or damaged by their association with FIFA. Earlier this fall, Emirates Airlines decided it would not renew its sponsorship of FIFA, but state-owned Qatar Airlines—of course—is rumored to be a possible replacement.

Sony is a global brand on a different level, though—and there is no state-owned equivalent to be lured in.

Meanwhile, sponsors like Coca-Cola, Adidas, Hyundai, Visa, and Budweiser have all criticized FIFA for its handling of the investigation, but have yet to make any moves toward the door. (We’ve reached out to these firms for a comment and will update this post accordingly.) Update: In a statement, Coca-Cola tells Quartz that “anything that detracts from the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup is a concern to us. The current conflicting perspectives regarding the investigation are disappointing. Our expectation is that this will be resolved quickly in a transparent and efficient manner.”

But soccer fans around the world counting on mega-sponsors like these to discipline FIFA may be short of luck: Companies will be reluctant to depart as long as FIFA controls access one of the most-watched television events, garnering hundreds of millions of viewers around the world. Of course, smart firms can find their way onto the field without paying FIFA. And smart fans might reward them for doing so.

Tim Fernholz
Reporter
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