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Corporate sponsors pressure FIFA to clean up its act

Corporate sponsors of FIFA such as Visa (V), Adidas and Coca-Cola (KO) are raising concerns about the growing bribery scandal around soccer's governing body as it opens its annual congress today in Zurich.

Visa was especially irate, saying in a statement that it would yank its sponsorship if the organization didn't take immediate steps to clean up its act. As Reuters notes, Visa became a FIFA partner in 2007 and recently extended its relationship with the organization through 2022. The company described its disappointment with the organization as "profound."

U.S. charges top FIFA officials with bribery

Nine FIFA officials and five sports marketing executives have been indicted in the U.S. on charges that they accepted $150 million worth of bribes over the past two decades. Chuck Blazer, the former top American official at FIFA, was among those charged though he reportedly is cooperating with authorities. According to the BBC, Swiss prosecutors are conducting a separate investigation in to the awarding of the World Cup tournaments in 2018 in Russia and 2022 in Qatar.

Sepp Blatter, who has led the organization since 1998, was not among those who were charged. He is expected to be elected to his fifth term as president during tomorrow's scheduled election despite calls for him to quit from U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron and the growing unease of sponsors.

"It will be interesting to see if the corruption scandal is more of a FIFA negative image factor than the human rights violations in selecting World Cup host countries at issue in the scandal," said John Vrooman, a sports economist at Vanderbilt University, by email in referring to the planned tournaments in Russia and Qatar.

Will FIFA scandal lead to change?

"Our sponsorship has always focused on supporting the teams, enabling a great fan experience, and inspiring communities to come together and celebrate the spirit of competition and personal achievement -- and it is important that FIFA makes changes now, so that the focus remain on these going forward," Visa said in a statement.

The Adidas Group told CBS MoneyWatch that it is committed to creating a culture that promotes "the highest standards of ethics and compliance" and expects the same from our partners.

"Following today's news, we can therefore only encourage FIFA to continue to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do," wrote Jan Runau, the company's chief corporate communication officer, in an email. "As previously stated on several occasions, the negative tenor of the public debate around FIFA at the moment is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners."

A recent history of FIFA scandals
A recent history of FIFA scandals

Adidas has provided the World Cup Match ball since 1970 and has a sponsorship with the international soccer overseer that expires in 2030, according to Reuters. It is the world's largest maker of soccer gear.

Coca-Cola, whose formal association with FIFA dates from 1974, has "repeatedly expressed its concerns about these serious allegations," according to the Atlanta-based company, adding "FIFA has stated that it is responding to all requests for information and we are confident it will continue to cooperate fully with the authorities."

Other FIFA sponsors, such as McDonald's (MCD), Hyundai and Anheuser Busch InBev (BUD), have also expressed their concerns about the bribery allegations to FIFA.

"We will continue to monitor the situation very closely," McDonald's said in a statement.

Anheuser Busch added in a news release that it expects its partners "to maintain strong ethical standards and operate with transparency."

"As a company that place the highest priority on ethical standards and transparency, Hyundai Motor is extremely concerned about the legal proceedings being taken against certain FIFA executives and will continue to monitor the situation closely," Hyundai said in a statement emailed to CBS MoneyWatch.

FIFA's sponsors will have to back up their critical words about FIFA with deeds, said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute.

"They had better be ready to follow through with it," he said. "They might be able rally other sponsors to be a positive force" to bring about change at FIFA.

The FIFA scandal comes as soccer continues to grow in popularity in the U.S., where 26 million viewers watched the last World Cup final in 2014, making it one of the most watched programs that year.

Still, Victor Matheson, a sports economist at the College of the Holy Cross, said that sponsors don't want their brands associated with bad publicity. He cites the recent example of the NFL, which was pressured by its corporate partners to take a more aggressive stance against domestic violence after some highly publicized incidents involving its players.

"It's a credible threat that FIFA had better take seriously," he said. "My understanding is that the television rights for the U.S. are more lucrative than any other country."

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