FIFA head Sepp Blatter is not popular with soccer
Emirates airlines, one of FIFA’s six major sponsors, is ending its sponsorship agreement with world soccer’s governing body at the end of 2014, according to multiple reports.
That means Emirates — a huge presence in the soccer universe — won’t be tied to the 2018 or 2022 World Cups as FIFA remains embroiled in widespread allegations of corruption and cronyism.
“This decision was made following an evaluation of FIFA’s contract proposal which did not meet Emirates’ expectations,” the airline said in a statement announcing its intentions, according to Sky News.
While perhaps not widely known to American sports fans and consumers, Emirates is a major player in the soccer world. It’s the title sponsor — meaning its logo adorns the shirts of — big-time European clubs including Real Madrid, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan.
The Guardian reports that Sony, another major FIFA partner, is “understood to be reviewing its position as the four year World Cup cycle draws to a close at the end of 2014.”
Sony representatives did not immediately respond to Mashable’s request for further comment.
FIFA has in recent years been beset by a host of accusations alleging corruption in everything from the compensation of top executives to how World Cup host nations are selected. The 2018 World Cup in Russia is a source of some controversy given Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimea region of neighboring Ukraine, as well as repression of political dissidents within his own nation.
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is a source of major controversy because of allegations that it was awarded illegitimately amid larger questions regarding the practicality of holding a World Cup in a scorchingly hot Middle Eastern country. Many have called for the 2022 World Cup to be moved, while officials have suggested holding matches in the middle of the night or holding the tournament in winter (as opposed to summer) to combat the extreme conditions. Hundreds of workers have died in the rush to build World Cup infrastructure in Qatar by 2022.
Major brands — FIFA’s six sponsors during the 2014 World Cup were Emirates, Sony, Adidas, Coca Cola, Visa and Hyundai/Kia — pay millions upon millions of dollars to bask in the reflected glory of the biggest event in sports. The 2014 World Cup final was watched by about 1 billion people worldwide.
Emirates representatives expressed doubt about the company’s association with FIFA as far back as 2011, however.
“We are seriously thinking about not renewing our partnership with FIFA beyond 2014,” Boutros Boutros, Emirates’ senior vice president of corporate communications, said in an interview with Australia’s B&T news outlet in 2011.
Even in 2011, Boutros said questions about FIFA’s legitimacy had tainted its partnering sponsors.
“As a sponsor you expect they will come and write to you in the middle of the issue or at the end of it,” Boutros reportedly said. “To them they act as if it’s nothing for sponsors. For us, in our history of sponsorship, it is the only event that when it happened our clients started writing to us saying ‘why do you support this organization?’”
He added: “We don’t get into politics but we believe the situation with FIFA went beyond an internal problem and became much bigger.”
FIFA appointed former New York City district attorney Michael Garcia to investigate the bidding process for the 2022 World Cup and submit a report of his findings, which he did earlier this fall. But FIFA head Sepp Blatter said in late September — to the scorn and non-surprise of many — that Garcia’s findings will remain secret and his report will not be published. FIFA officials now say that a summary of Garcia’s report — though not the actual report — may be publicly released this spring.
But — Emirates or no Emirates, Sony or no Sony — the appeal for brands to be associated with the glamour of the World Cup will remain despite FIFA’s stain of alleged corruption. The Guardian reports that Qatar Airways and Samsung are lined up to fill any sponsorship gaps that may emerge at year’s end.
With substitute sponsors eager to write massive partnership checks of their own, it’s hard to see FIFA becoming motivated to change its allegedly corrupt ways any time.