Sepp Blatter defied calls from FIFA sponsors Budweiser, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Visa on Friday to quit immediately as president of world soccer’s governing body rather than clinging on until the emergency election in February.
The interventions from the long-standing sponsors come a week after the 79-year-old Blatter was placed under criminal investigation by Swiss authorities for alleged financial wrongdoing at FIFA, which he has led since 1998.
The 79-year-old Blatter “respectfully disagrees” with the sponsors’ demands, the president’s lawyer, Richard Cullen, said in a statement.
“(He) believes firmly that his 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,” Cullen said.
Coca-Cola, which has advertised in stadiums at every World Cup since 1950, was the first of the sponsors on Friday to demand Blatter’s resignation.
“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,” Coca-Cola said in a statement. “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.”
That call was echoed by McDonald’s, which has been a World Cup sponsor since 1994.
“The events of recent weeks have continued to diminish the reputation of FIFA and public confidence in its leadership,” the fast food giant said in a statement. “We believe it would be in the best interest of the game for FIFA President Sepp Blatter to step down immediately so that the reform process can proceed with the credibility that is needed.”
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A further blow came from Visa, which has a FIFA deal through the 2022 World Cup.
“We believe no meaningful reform can be made under FIFA’s existing leadership,” Visa said. “And given the events of last week, it’s clear it would be in the best interest of FIFA and the sport for Sepp Blatter to step down immediately.”
The fourth statement was delivered by brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev, whose Budweiser branding has appeared on hoardings in World Cup stadiums since 1986 and the current deal runs until 2022.
“It would be appropriate for Mr. Blatter to step down as we believe his continued presence to be an obstacle in the reform process,” the beer maker said in a statement.
Blatter’s own position has been weakened as lawyers oversee key decisions at scandal-battered FIFA and he waits to hear whether he will be suspended by the ethics committee.
English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke called the strong intervention from sponsors “a game changer” that should prevent Blatter from staying until the Feb. 26 election.
“It doesn’t matter what Mr. Blatter says now, if the people who pay for FIFA want a change they will get a change,” Dyke said. “What is important is that it isn’t just about Mr. Blatter standing down, it’s about making sure there is a comprehensive and effective reform programme.
“So for those of us who want fundamental change this is good news.”