LONDON – Five World Cup sponsors have written to FIFA’s executive committee demanding “independent oversight” of the reform process in their latest intervention that highlights concerns about their links to soccer’s scandal-battered governing body.
Sponsors were originally promised places on the FIFA reform committee. But instead of being invited into meetings discussing the overhaul of the organization, they have been offered seats only on an advisory board which is yet to be appointed.
The sponsors’ letter was sent from Adidas, McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Visa, and Budweiser brewer AB InBev to FIFA’s ruling body ahead of meetings this week when a final slate of reform proposals will be discussed.
The reform panel was established following the indictment of soccer officials by American authorities for bribery but the sponsors appear to have reservations about its independence.
“We want to stress that we are calling on you to embrace change, implement reforms, endorse a long-term independent oversight approach and initiate the cultural change because we all want to see football thrive,” the sponsors wrote to the FIFA executive committee in a letter seen by The Associated Press.
The sponsors say “strengthening FIFA’s governance” is “just one step toward creating a credible future” of an organization currently under the temporary leadership of Issa Hayatou while Sepp Blatter is suspended.
“We want to emphasize to you the values and characteristics that we believe should be incorporated through the reforms,” the sponsors wrote. “Transparency, accountability, respect for human rights, integrity, leadership, and gender equality are crucial to the future of FIFA.
“Reforms can set the proper framework for these characteristics, but a cultural change is also needed. The culture change has to begin within FIFA and filter through to the confederations and FIFA’s football associations.”
Despite seeming sidelined by the reform talks, sponsors were praised by FIFA for “their invaluable contributions and efforts.”
“Our commercial affiliates will continue to play an important role in the reform process as it moves forward, and will help ensure the adoption and implementation of a comprehensive package of reforms,” FIFA said in a statement.
Blatter launched the reform process on June in a speech announcing his intended resignation. It was seen as a key move to show critics, including U.S. federal prosecutors, that embattled FIFA could change its culture and behaviour.
Former International Olympic Committee official Francois Carrard accepted FIFA’s invitation in August to lead a team that was to include two people picked by the sponsors to join 12 more nominated by FIFA’s six continental confederations.
That promise of two seats then became a pledge to give sponsors input in a five-member advisory board Carrard said he would choose to review his panel’s work.
However, the advisory board — seen as a safety net to give oversight by experts from outside FIFA’s “football family” — has disappeared from the process.
Carrard has never announced appointments or scheduled meetings in almost four months of working with FIFA.
Reform and anti-corruption ideas being agreed Thursday by the FIFA executive committee will be put to the congress of 209 member federations on Feb. 26, when the new president will also be elected. It is unclear what input sponsors had or will have before the congress.
“The actions you take with this first round of reform proposals will set the tone for the full Congress to get behind the reform process,” the sponsors wrote to the executive committee.
South Korean motor firm Hyundai Motor Group and Russian state-controlled gas company Gazprom are not signatories to the letter.
Sponsors and commercial partners contributed $1.6 billion of FIFA’s $5.7 billion windfall in 2011-2014, which encompassed the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Zurich contributed to this report.