Sepp Blatter on Friday rejected calls from FIFA sponsors Budweiser, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Visa to step down immediately as president of world soccer’s governing body rather than stick it out until an emergency election due in February.
The long-standing sponsors’ intervention comes a week after Blatter, 79, was placed under criminal investigation by Swiss authorities for alleged financial improprieties at FIFA, which he has led since 1998.
Richard Cullen, the president’s lawyer, said in a statement that Blatter, 79, “respectfully disagrees” with the sponsors’ demands.
“[He]firmly believes that his stepping down would no longer be in the best interests of FIFA nor would it further the process of reform and therefore, he will not resign,” Cullen said.
Coca-Cola, which has advertised in stadiums at every World Cup since 1950, was the first sponsor to demand Blatter’s resignation on Friday.
“For the benefit of the game, The Coca-Cola Company is calling on FIFA President Josef Blatter to step down immediately so that a credible and sustainable reform process can begin in earnest,” Coca-Cola said in a statement. “With each day that passes, the image and reputation of FIFA continues to tarnish. FIFA needs comprehensive and urgent reform, and this can only be accomplished through a truly independent approach.”
That call was echoed by McDonald’s, which has been a World Cup sponsor since 1994.
“The events of recent weeks have continued to undermine FIFA’s reputation and public confidence in its leadership,” the fast food giant said in a statement. “We believe it would be in the best interests of the game for FIFA President Sepp Blatter to step down immediately so that the reform process can proceed with the necessary credibility.”
Another blow came from Visa, which has a FIFA deal through the 2022 World Cup.
“We believe that no meaningful improvement can be made to the current leadership of FIFA,” Visa said. “And given the events of the past week, it is clear that for Sepp Blatter to step down immediately is the best course of action for FIFA and would be in the best interest of the game.”
The fourth statement was made by brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, whose Budweiser branding has appeared on billboards in World Cup stadiums since 1986 and the current deal runs through 2022.
“It would be appropriate for Mr Blatter to step down as we believe his continued presence may hinder the reform process,” the beer company said in a statement.
Blatter has weakened his own position as the lawyer overseeing key decisions at scandal-ravaged FIFA waits to hear whether he will be suspended by the ethics committee.
Greg Dyke, president of the English Football Association, called the strong intervention from sponsors “a game changer” that would prevent Blatter from staying until the February 26 election.
Dyck said, “It doesn’t matter what Mr. Blatter says now, if the people who pay for FIFA want change they will get it.” “The important thing is that it is not just about Mr Blatter’s standing, it is about ensuring that there is a comprehensive and effective reform programme.
“So for those of us who want fundamental change, this is good news.”