LAUSANNE • After powerful Fifa sponsors demanded his immediate resignation, a key question surrounded Sepp Blatter yesterday: Can the sleaze-tainted president of world football's governing body Fifa survive until his planned departure in February?
Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Visa and Budweiser in separate statements on Friday called on him to step down, a week after Swiss prosecutors opened a criminal investigation against the 79-year-old over mismanagement.
But Blatter remained defiant, saying his departure would not be in Fifa's best interests and that he had no plans to resign before February, when a special election has been called to choose his replacement.
That position may prove untenable. Exposure of the rot within Fifa had previously sparked widespread calls for immediate change.
However, the rare display of unity from four major companies marked the first time that key financial backers had explicitly demanded Blatter's resignation.
It doesn't matter what Mr Blatter says now - if the people who pay for Fifa want a change, they will get a change.
GREG DYKE, English FA chairman
"The sponsors have the financial power to force change at Fifa," said Cobus de Swardt, managing director of corruption watchdog Transparency International.
The Coca-Cola company said Fifa's reputation deteriorates "every day that passes" with Blatter still in office.
"Coca Cola is more than a valued sponsor, they are the foundation of Blatter's position in Fifa," Patrick Nally, a prominent sports marketing executive, said on Twitter.
Coca-Cola has had stadium advertising at every World Cup since 1950 and has been an official sponsor of the quadrennial tournament since 1978.
The partnership, believed currently to be worth tens of millions of dollars per year, has been extended through to 2022.
Visa, another top-tier sponsor of past World Cups, also levelled a direct blow.
It said that "no meaningful reform can be made under Fifa's existing leadership".
Similar comments also came from Budweiser's parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and fast-food giant McDonald's.
Top sponsors based outside the United States have not yet gone as far. German sportswear firm adidas yesterday reiterated its stance that change at Fifa was vital, without mentioning Blatter.
There was no immediate comment from South Korean conglomerate Hyundai or Russian energy giant Gazprom.
Jaimie Fuller, of campaign group New Fifa Now, said the clear demand from sponsors marked a major development.
"Never before have we seen a sponsor of an international sports federation take such drastic action as to call for an independent reform commission, let alone demand the president step down in the face of a criminal investigation," he said.
He noted the drastic call "stresses the extreme problems faced by Fifa and should show everyone how it is teetering on the abyss".
In a statement, Blatter's New York attorney said his client "believes firmly that his leaving office now would not be in the best interest of Fifa nor would it advance the process of reform and, therefore, he will not resign".
A Fifa spokesman declined to comment on the sponsors' demands. But English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke, a long-time critic of Blatter, said the backers' calls marked the end of the road for the Fifa chief.
"I think this is a game-changer.
"It doesn't matter what Mr Blatter says now - if the people who pay for Fifa want a change, they will get a change," he said in London. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE,