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Visa leads chorus of disapproval from Fifa’s top-tier partners

Financial services company Visa has said it will reassess its sponsorship of Fifa if football’s global governing body fails to implement changes in the wake of its latest scandal.

Fifa has been facing widespread condemnation after multiple officials were detained by police on Wednesday morning following an investigation into corruption by the US Department of Justice. The Swiss Attorney General also announced on Wednesday separate proceedings had been launched into the process that led to the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.

In January 2014, Visa extended its top-tier partnership with Fifa until 2022. As a top-level Fifa partner alongside Adidas, Coca-Cola, Gazprom and Hyundai/Kia, the deal grants the electronic payments company global marketing rights and product category exclusivity for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and more than 40 Fifa events scheduled throughout the time period, including the Women’s World Cup and the U-20 World Cup.

Visa expressed its “profound” disappointment and concern at the developments and added: “As a sponsor, we expect Fifa to take swift and immediate steps to address these issues within its organisation. This starts with rebuilding a culture with strong ethical practices in order to restore the reputation of the games for fans everywhere.

“Visa became a sponsor of Fifa because the World Cup is one of the few truly global sporting events with the power to unite people from around the world through a common love of football. Our sponsorship has always focused on supporting the teams, enabling a great fan experience, and inspiring communities to come together and celebrate the spirit of competition and personal achievement – and it is important that Fifa makes changes now, so that the focus remain on these going forward. Should Fifa fail to do so, we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship.”

Adidas became the first top-tier Fifa commercial partner to comment on the matter yesterday (Wednesday). Adidas extended its long-term partnership with Fifa until 2030 under a deal struck in November 2013. The German company is an official partner, supplier and licensee for the World Cup and all Fifa events, extending a relationship that first commenced in 1970.

“The Adidas group is fully committed to creating a culture that promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance, and we expect the same from our partners,” Adidas said. “Following today's news, we can therefore only encourage Fifa to continue to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do.”

Korean automaker Hyundai-Kia, the sole Asian top-tier partner which has a contract covering Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, said it was "extremely concerned" about the legal proceedings against Fifa executives. Coca-Cola, which has sponsored Fifa and the World Cup for four decades, and is also backing Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, said: “This lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the Fifa World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations.”

Russian energy giant Gazprom is a newcomer to the top-tier family having signed a four-year sponsorship deal with Fifa in September 2013 which will take in the country’s staging of its first World Cup in 2018. The state-owned company officially joined Fifa’s commercial portfolio in 2015, with the agreement running through to the 2018 World Cup.

Contacted by Sports Sponsorship Insider today, a Gazprom spokeswoman referred to a statement given to state-owned news agency Tass. The statement read: “The situation with Fifa has no influence on Gazprom's sponsorship agreement.”

Meanwhile, sportswear company Nike has said that it is cooperating with authorities in the US probe into corruption of Fifa. Nike is not an official Fifa sponsor, but it has partnerships with a number of leading national associations. This is the first time it has acknowledged that it has been contacted as part of the investigation.

Nike did not address anything specific in the investigation, but said it is “strongly opposed to any form of manipulation or bribery.” No specific companies are mentioned in the US Justice Department allegations. However, they allege that an unnamed multinational sportswear company headquartered in the US bribed marketing executives in order to win a 10-year sponsorship deal with the Brazilian national team in 1996, the same year Nike signed a $400m (€352.4m) sponsorship agreement with the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF).