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Key FIFA sponsors expressed concern about allegations of widespread corruption leveled against some of the soccer body's highest level officials.
Visa, which is one of FIFA’s main partners, even threatened to end its relationship with the organization if it did not clean up its act in the wake of fourteen indictments by U.S. officials revealed Wednesday over an alleged $150 million scandal. Swiss prosecutors also announced an investigation into suspected "criminal mismanagement and money laundering" in connection with the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar.
"Our disappointment and concern with FIFA in light of today's developments is profound," Visa said in a statement, adding that if the soccer body did not make immediate changes, "we have informed them that we will reassess our sponsorship."
Coca-Cola, another FIFA sponsor, said the "lengthy controversy has tarnished the mission and ideals of the FIFA World Cup and we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about these serious allegations."
McDonald’s said the corruption allegations were "extremely concerning" and said it was monitoring the situation closely.
Adidas called on FIFA to increase its transparency in the wake of the allegations.
However, while sponsors were quick to issue statements expressing alarm, the continued popularity of global soccer tournaments like the World Cup likely mean that corporations would be reluctant to withdraw their support from the international game, according to Engage Marketing chief engagement officer Kevin Adler.
The firms associated with FIFA were "taking more of a 'listen and learn' approach than a reactive run for cover approach right now," he told CNBC.
Hundreds of millions of people watch the World Cup around the world, making it one of the most attractive sporting events for top brands.
“It’s one of the few marquee properties, and really the marquee property on the global sports landscape and I think sponsors will keep their finger on the pulse of what the consumer reaction is but ultimately stay the course,” Adler added. "The sponsors are certainly going to pay attention and listen closely to the reaction of the fans. But I also believe that the day-to-day football fan around the world is not as connected to the politics of the bid process and the corruption and FIFA as an organization."
However, he warned that sponsors would be keeping an eye on potential fallout from the allegations.
“If the consumers start to show a backlash and the goodwill that the World Cup has enjoyed as a brand, as a property, if its audience starts to fade, then that’s something we need to pay attention to," Adler said. "But I think the answer right now is, it’s not a buy, it’s not a sell, it’s a hold.”
Following public pressure to act on human rights concerns surrounding the 2022 World Cup scheduled to be held in Qatar, Visa, Coca-Cola, and Adidas issued statements to FIFA last week urging it to take seriously the treatment of migrant workers building venues and infrastructure in the Gulf emirate.
The indictment announced by the U.S. Department of Justice also alleged that a sportswear company agreed in 1996 to pay $160 million — including $40 million in "marketing fees" not mentioned in the initial contract — to become the official supplier of the Brazil national soccer team.
While the indictment did not mention the company by name, Nike, which has made Brazil's jerseys and other apparel during this time, issued a statement said it was cooperating with authorities.