NEW YORK/ZURICH (Reuters) – Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Visa on Friday (Oct 2) called 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, the major sponsors of Fifa released statements demanding Blatter step down, in the strongest sign yet companies that have long linked their brand names to the global sport will push for change in the organisation.
But Blatter’s US lawyer, Richard Cullen, said in response that Blatter would not resign, because he believed leaving office would not be in Fifa’s best interest or advance needed reforms of the organisation.
“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 thereafter, McDonald’s followed suit with its own statement, adding to the call for Blatter to step aside. “The events of recent weeks have continued to diminish the reputation of Fifa and public confidence in its leadership,” the fast-food giant company 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.”
Visa said in a statement: “We believe no meaningful reform can be made under Fifa’s existing leadership. And given the events of last week, it’s clear it would be in the best interests of Fifa and the sport for Sepp Blatter to step down immediately.”
Blatter has previously said he would stay on until an election set for February.
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 US 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 US and Swiss authorities investigating corruption in the organisation – a worry for tournament sponsors such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Visa.
The scandal exploded in May, when 14 soccer officials and sports marketing executives were indicted on US charges of racketeering, money-laundering and wire fraud in relations to bribery schemes that dated back decades.