While more than a few sponsors, particularly Visa, have left FIFA know their displeasure in being attached to an organization that has been attached to human rights issues along with massive corruption, at least one brand is pursuing cutting a sponsorship deal with the organization: Qatar Airways, which just happens to be owned by the country of Qatar, host to the extremely controversial 2022 World Cup.
The airline currently sponsors FC Barcelona (with Nike producing the team’s home and away kit), despite rumblings that the current three-year deal wouldn’t happen, and produced this controversial commercial starring Lionel Messi, Neymar Jr., Gerard Piqué and Luis Suárez in February:
Of course, it stands to profit from travelers booking flights and holiday packages for the 2022 World Cup, and is steadfastly refusing to take a stance on the FIFA scandal because it’s considering becoming an official World Cup brand partner. The airline’s Chief Commercial Officer Marwan Koleilat reportedly stated of l’affaire FIFA on Monday, “That is the business of the government. It is not our concern.”
Today, however, the carrier withdrew those comments, according to Reuters, which noted: “Qatar Airways plans to become a World Cup sponsor for FIFA even though it is concerned about the bribery investigation into world soccer’s governing body.” Reuters also quoted a spokesperson for the airline, who confirmed that the company is weighing a sponsorship: “With the World Cup coming to Qatar, we have had advanced internal discussions regarding this, but we are not in advanced discussions with FIFA.”
Each day adds to the growing drumbeat of black marks against soccer’s governing body, including a new inquiry involving its #2 executive and the admission that another executive was involved in a $10 million payment. It’s still reeling from the aftershocks of 14 arrests last week of current officials and related parties in a corruption scandal that threatens to change the course of world football.
The organization is also trying to shift attention by rallying fans (hashtag: #myFIFAWWC) to get behind the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada, which kicks off on June 6 with Bell, Labatt and Trend Micro as national sponsors and adidas, Coca-Cola, Gazprom, Hyundai-Kia and Visa as top-level partners.
FIFA’s newly re-elected president Sepp Blatter isn’t going to the Cup’s first game as he needs to be in Zurich at FIFA HQ as the bribery probe continues, but he hopes to make it to the Final in July, the BBC reports.
He’s also busy trying to reassure the parties paying for all this, namely the World Cup sponsorships whose funds account for the majority of its operating revenue. While Blatter and his top executives are in intense conversations with those sponsors that haven’t quit, such as Coca-Cola and adidas, some have already parted ways: Sony, Emirates, Castrol, Johnson & Johnson and Continental declined to renew their FIFA sponsorships after last summer’s World Cup.
As for all those current sponsors that are concerned about how it looks that they are putting big funds behind all this (alleged) madness, MediaPost can’t figure out why no brands have pulled the plug just yet since this corruption scandal is already in addition to the many deaths of foreign workers building the stadia in Qatar and the anti-gay efforts of Russia, where the 2018 World Cup will be held. The Guardian estimates that 62 workers will die for every World Cup game played.
Eve without the prodding of John Oliver, each FIFA partner is watching what occurs in the bribery probe and if another cleat drops, one may finally renege on its sponsorship deal. Once one does, more will surely follow, just as they have in past scandals, such as the Tiger Woods blowup and Lance Armstrong debacle. Unlike those two, though, this involves far more engaged global eyeballs for brands so the decision will be a much tougher one, although try to explain that to the families of those workers that have perished.
Culled: Brand Channel
[Images at top via Qatar Airways/Facebook]