World Cup: Sony becomes first football sponsor to back Qatar 2022 probe

LONDON (REUTERS) - Sony has become the first World Cup sponsor to call for a probe into accusations that bribes were paid to secure the 2022 tournament for Qatar, raising the stakes for football chiefs who have threatened to move the cup if the allegations are proved to be true.

Football's governing body Fifa is conducting an internal investigation into the decisions to hold the 2018 World Cup in Russia and the 2022 Cup in Qatar.

Qatar's bid in particular has attracted controversy from the outset because of the extreme summer heat during the months when the cup is played and the tiny country's lack of domestic soccer tradition.

Britain's Sunday Times has printed what it says are leaked documents showing bribes were paid to secure the event for Qatar, which Qatar denies. A former US prosecutor leading Fifa's internal investigation is due to report in July, around a week after this year's World Cup finishes in Brazil.

The newspaper published new accusations on Sunday, just days before the 2014 tournament kicks off in Brazil, alleging that then Asian football chief Mohamed Hammam, a Qatari, had brokered meetings between Qatari officials and governments to discuss bilateral trade deals.

Qatar denies that Hammam, who has not commented, was connected to its bid for the Cup. Fifa has already banned him for life from soccer over accusations he paid bribes to win votes for a bid to become president. That ban was overturned but another was imposed for conflicts of interest.

Until now, Fifa's sponsors have stayed silent. The Sunday Times quoted a Sony statement as saying: "As a Fifa partner, we expect these allegations to be investigated appropriately.

"We continue to expect Fifa to adhere to its principles of integrity ethics and fair play across all aspects of its operations," the statement added.

Fifa earned almost US$1.4 billion (S$1.75 billion) last year, including more than US$600 million from broadcasting rights and over US$400 million from sponsors and other marketing partners.

Sony is one of six main Fifa sponsors who collectively paid around US$180 million last year. Sony's sponsorship agreement expires this year, giving it particular leverage as it negotiates a new deal.