Sponsors Pressure FIFA Over Qatar Bid Ahead of World Cup Kickoff

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The 2014 World Cup hasn’t even gotten underway yet, but major sponsors of the event are already criticizing FIFA for its pick for the 2022 tournament host nation: Qatar. 

The selection of Qatar in December of 2010 immediately raised major concerns for a number of factors, including the punishing heat that the country suffers through during the traditional World Cup months of June and July; the country’s poor human-rights track record; the fact that Qatar doesn’t have much of a history with soccer; and that all of the stadiums for the event needed to be constructed (and will be white elephants after), among other issues that comedian John Oliver can explain for you.

Besides former US President Bill Clinton’s total disappointment with the decision to skip the US and head to Qatar, investigators have now revealed that there were likely millions of dollars in bribes exchanged in order for Qatar to win the bid, The Guardian reports. The country has also come under fire for supposedly using “slaves” to help build the needed infrastructure for the event.

On top of everything else, the news of the illegal transactions now has official sponsors including adidas, Sony, Coca-Cola and Visa concerned about their association with the event. “Our expectation remains that all of our partners maintain strong ethical standards and operate with transparency,” Visa said, according to Associated Press.[more]

“The negative tenor of the public debate around FIFA at the moment is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners,” said a spokesperson for adidas, which is FIFA’s longest-running commercial partner as a sponsor since 1970 and is signed on through 2030, according to Reuters.

As the Washington Post notes, with five of the six partner-level sponsors (Sony, adidas, Coca-Cola, Visa and Hyundai) pressuring FIFA to investigate the corruption charges, Castrol brand owner BP and Budweiser parent AB InBev “have joined the scrum” and are monitoring the situation. Other sponsors, such as McDonald’s, have yet to release a statement.

FIFA president Joseph Blatter has responded that his organization understands the media interest in the possible bribing but notes that its ethics committee needs time to work. The committee, led by former US prosecutor Michael Garcia, is expected to make a report to the FIFA governing body on Wednesday, the day before the World Cup kicks off in Brazil.

“This underlines that companies need to make sure that any high profile association enhances their reputation rather than damages it,” said Andy Sutherden, Global Head of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship at communications firm H+K Strategies, Reuters reports.

Human rights and high-heat issues aren’t the only thing on the ethics committee’s plate. Earlier reports that claimed several games leading up to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa were fixed after referees were paid off will surely trouble the organization throughout this year’s tournament, but, as the New York Times notes, there is really no way to fully protect World Cup games from being fixed.

With the “results of an estimated 680 global matches from 2008 to 2011—including some World Cup qualifying matches—were found to be suspicious,” there’s no question that fans watching the matches will be wondering if fair calls are being made.  

For more on what this means for FIFA and World Cup sponsors, watch Interbrand Global CEO Jez Frampton on CNN:

• Connect with Mark on Twitter: @markjmill

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