Can Coke remove the stains from FIFA?

Amidst scandal and corruption, top corporate sponsors demand a third-party commission to oversee FIFA reforms.

Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters
FIFA President Sepp Blatter reacts to banknotes thrown at him by British comedian known as Lee Nelson (unseen) while arriving for a news conference after the Extraordinary FIFA Executive Committee Meeting at the FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland July 20, 2015.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was showered with fake dollar bills by a British comedian at a press conference in Switzerland on Monday. But the prank is the least of his current concerns, as longtime-sponsors of soccer’s premier governing body are demanding, "one or more eminent impartial leaders to manage the efforts necessary to help reform FIFA's governance and its human rights requirements," according to correspondence obtained by BBC.

Coca-Cola wrote to FIFA on July 9 saying, “We believe that establishing this independent commission will be the most credible way for FIFA to approach its reform process and is necessary to build back the trust it has lost.”

FIFA has severely struggled with credibility since May, when allegations of corruption led to the arrest of numerous top officials; separate US and Swiss investigations have been launched.

“If you touch our shores with your corrupt enterprise ... you will be held accountable for that corruption,” said James Comey, US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director, in May.

The US case is examining allegations of bribes "totaling more than $100 million" tied to commercial deals dating to the 1990s for soccer tournaments in the US and Latin America, according to the Swiss Federal Office of Justice. Talk of vote-buying, bribery, racketeering, money laundering, and other criminal embroilments by top officials exponentially intensified this past spring, although they have hounded FIFA for years, and now accusations of FIFA-related human-rights abuses in Qatar have arisen as the nation prepares for the 2022 World Cup.

Mr. Blatter, president of FIFA since 1998, announced he would resign from his post on June 2, 2015. He cited the lack of a fan mandate as his reason for leaving the organization, which he has been officially affiliated with since 1981 when he began as general-secretary; a special congress will to be held on February 26, 2016 in Zurich to elect a new president. In his resignation, Blatter called for “deep-rooted structural change,”  within competitive soccer’s governing body.

Visa has issued the most dire warning of the corporate sponsors, saying that if FIFA fails to take “swift and immediate” steps to remedy the issues present, then the international credit card company will "reassess [their] sponsorship." McDonald’s, another sponsor of the World Cup, has stated FIFA needs to make “meaningful changes.”

Coca-Cola explained the logic behind the third-party reform commission oversight saying, "We are calling for this approach out of our deep commitment to ethics and human rights and in the interest of seeing FIFA succeed." 

While the science of corruption is difficult to unravel, FIFA may benefit through third-party oversight, as suggested by top corporate sponsors.

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