NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Friday, October 2, 2015, 10:15 PM
Calling for ‘urgent reform,’ Cola-Cola calls for embattled FIFA boss Sepp Blatter to quit.
Four of the biggest sponsors of the FIFA World Cup – Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Visa and Budweiser – called on embattled Sepp Blatter to step down immediately as the president of soccer’s international governing body Friday.
The demands for Blatter’s resignation comes one week after Swiss prosecutors announced they had launched an investigation into Blatter on suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation.
“For the benefit of the game, the Coca-Cola Company is calling for FIFA President Joseph Blatter to step down immediately so that a credible and sustainable reform process can begin in earnest,” the company said. “Every day that passes, the image and reputation of FIFA continues to tarnish. FIFA needs comprehensive and urgent reform, and that can only be accomplished through a truly independent approach.”
A lawyer for the 79-year-old soccer executive quickly fired back after Coke became the first corporate sponsor to call for Blatter’s job Friday, issuing a statement that suggested Blatter won’t leave the soccer organization he has led since 1998 until he is ready.
“While Coca-Cola is a valued sponsor of FIFA, Mr. Blatter respectfully disagrees with its position and believes firmly that 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,” Blatter’s American attorney Richard Cullen.
Sports marketing consultant Marc Ganis, however, said Blatter’s days are numbered.
“He is a dead man walking and he doesn’t know it yet,” Ganis said. “Every day he stays, he hurts the organization. It is narcissism run amok.”
Blatter was re-elected for a fifth term as FIFA president in May, days before 14 FIFA officials and sports marketing executives were charged with fraud, money laundering and racketeering in an indictment handed down by a Brooklyn federal grand jury. Blatter said in June that he would resign as FIFA’s president, but wouldn’t do so until February, after a new leader was elected. He has since hinted that he might stay on and serve his full term.
Coca-Cola has expressed frustration with Blatter and the soccer governing body since the Justice Department announced the indictment in May. The company has pushed for an independent commission to reform FIFA and issued a statement in June that said Blatter’s impending resignation is “a positive step for the good of the sport, football and its fans.”
Ganis said the other sponsors also hoped Blatter would step down months ago. But the companies were reluctant to directly challenge Blatter until Friday because the FIFA president remained a powerful figure in international sports. Criticizing the FIFA president directly would put the companies at a disadvantage in the future. Pulling sponsorship dollars gives competitors the opportunity to fill the void – and access to the advertising and branding opportunities presented by the world’s most popular sporting event.
Blatter’s resignation just a few weeks ago Ganis added, would not have changed much because his loyal second-in-command, Jerome Valcke, would have taken the helm and little would have changed. But when Valcke was relieved of his duties last month amid allegations that he profited from a scheme to sell marked-up tickets to the 2014 World Cup, it provided an opening for the sponsors to call for Blatter’s ouster.
Ganis said he would not be surprised if the sponsors coordinate their calls for Blatter’s job. “It’s a risk to be the only one out there,” he said. “As soon as Coke popped the lid, it gave the other sponsors an opening to do the same.”
Blatter may be hanging on for legal reasons; Swiss authorities seized evidence from FIFA’s Zurich offices before the investigation into Blatter was made public, but maintaining his position still gives him access to evidence – and the opportunity to obfuscate evidence – he would not have if he resigned, Ganis said.
UEFA president Michel Platini was considered the leading candidate to replace Blatter next year, but he, too, now appears to be a symbol of FIFA’s many problems. His candidacy took a hit after the authorities in Switzerland said last month that they were investigating a suspicious two million Swiss franc payment Blatter made to Platini in 2011 for work he supposedly did on FIFA’s behalf more than a decade earlier.
Jaimie Fuller of New FIFA Now, an organization that has called for reforms, called the sponsors’ statements 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 immediately step down in the face of a criminal investigation.” Fuller said. “The drastic nature of the call stresses the extreme problems faced by FIFA and should show everybody how the sports governing body is teetering on the abyss. We applaud Coke, Visa, Budweiser and McDonalds’ preparedness to demand immediate action in the name of world football and all who love the game.”
With NATHANIEL VINTON