FIFA has been told by sponsor Coca-Cola to appoint an independent commission to lead a reform process aimed at cleaning up world soccer’s scandal-ridden governing body.
In the most significant intervention by a company which helps to bankroll world soccer, the soft drinks giant said Friday that it formally asked FIFA to allow “one or more eminent, impartial leaders” to explore how the organization can regain its credibility and the trust of fans.
After Coca-Cola’s demand was revealed, another U.S.-based sponsor — McDonald’s — publicly rebuked FIFA for having “internal controls and compliance culture” inconsistent with the fast-food chain’s own standards.
FIFA responded by saying it “values the input” of corporate backers but did not endorse calls for a commission.
“FIFA’s goal is to achieve the highest standards of governance and accountability for the international football community,” the governing body said in a statement to The Associated Press.
FIFA is reeling from the indictment of 14 people — including two now-ousted vice presidents who were arrested in Zurich — in an American investigation into alleged racketeering, bribery and money laundering in soccer.
The indictments were revealed in May, just before Sepp Blatter was re-elected for a fifth term as FIFA president, but mounting pressure led to him announcing plans to resign four days later. FIFA’s executive committee will meet on Monday to decide an election date, which is likely to be early 2016, and discuss potential reforms.
Coca-Cola, which has sponsored FIFA since 1974, confirmed to the AP that it “asked FIFA to support an independent, third-party commission overseen by one or more eminent, impartial leaders to manage the efforts necessary to help reform FIFA’s governance and its human rights requirement.”
Brent Wilton, Coca-Cola director of global workplace rights, also wrote to a member of the New FIFA Now movement on Friday to say that the commission “will be the most credible way for FIFA to … build back the trust it has lost.”
“We are calling for this approach out of our deep commitment to ethics and human rights and in the interest of seeing FIFA succeed,” Wilton wrote to International Trade Union Confederation General Secretary Sharan Burrow.
McDonald’s — a FIFA sponsor since the 1994 World Cup — told the AP that urgent “deep reform” is required while backing the commission proposed by Coca-Cola.
“Recent allegations and indictments have severely tarnished FIFA in a way that strikes at the very heart of our sponsorship,” McDonald’s said. “As a result, we have expressed our concerns directly to FIFA. We believe FIFA’s internal controls and compliance culture are inconsistent with expectations McDonald’s has for its business partners throughout the world.
“FIFA must now implement meaningful changes to restore trust and credibility with fans and sponsors alike. The world expects concrete actions and so does McDonald’s.”
Swiss federal investors are also looking into the bidding contests for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups where sponsor branding will feature prominently at games.
The call for an “eminent” individual to lead the overhaul of FIFA echoes a key demand in a document from global anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International earlier this week.
United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan was named this week by a senior Netherlands football federation official as the type of leader FIFA needs to restore credibility. Annan, a 77-year-old from Ghana, was the top U.N. official for 10 years through 2006 and has also attended showpiece UEFA events recently, including the Champions League final.
A figure from outside of soccer like Annan, however, would be unable to stand for the FIFA presidency, with rules requiring candidates to have been active in football for two of the past five years.
The highlighting by Coca-Cola of FIFA’s need to address human rights issues follows criticism of 2022 World Cup host Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers and its lack of progress implementing changes to labor legislation.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris