Pressure was mounting on football’s international governing body on Sunday night after more major sponsors signalled growing unease over corruption allegations surrounding the award of the 2022 World Cup, just days before the tournament kicks off in Brazil.
Organisers of the controversial Qatar bid said the country was confident that it would retain the right to stage the showcase global event, once more fiercely denying claims that it broke the rules over payments and incentives reported to have been made by a top official to bring the World Cup to the Middle East.
Three of the six main-tier sponsors – who between them have paid $180m for partnership rights with Fifa – issued statements in the wake of the controversy.
Payment card company Visa said it would monitor Fifa’s internal investigation and that it expected that “all of our partners maintain strong ethical standards and operate with transparency.” It added: “We expect Fifa will take the appropriate actions to respond to the report and its recommendations.”
It followed Japanese electronics giant Sony in taking the unusual step of breaking ranks over the affair urging that the claims “be investigated appropriately” and called for the sport’s governing body to observe “its principles of integrity, ethics and fair play”.
German sportswear company Adidas – Fifa’s longest-standing sponsor, which recently signed a new deal up until 2030 – also expressed its disquiet at the potentially damaging saga.
In a statement that mirrored one previously issued in 2011 it said: “The negative tenor of the public debate around Fifa at the moment is neither good for football nor for Fifa and its partners.”
The other three major sponsors, Airline Emirates, South Korean carmaker Hyundai/Kia, and Coca-Cola have yet to comment on the controversy.
Further allegations were published in the Sunday Times alleging that former Fifa vice president Mohamed bin Hammam arranged meetings between the energy-rich Qatari government and its royal family and key voters, ahead of the ballot to decide the venue for the 2022 championships.
It followed claims last week that Qatari football chief Mr Bin Hammam – who is currently serving a life ban from the sport for a “conflict of interests” - had used a slush fund to make secret payments of $5m in the campaign to secure the right to stage sport’s biggest tournament.
The Qatar Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the organising committee for the event, said it had fully co-operated with the investigation.
“Qatar has won the bid on its merits and we are confident that at the end of the appropriate process, the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar will stand,” it said.
Fifa has launched an inquiry into the claims although this was criticised by Labour leader Ed Miliband after its chief investigator Michael Garcia’s law firm told the newspaper it would stop gathering evidence before all the allegations contained in a cache of leaked documents had been published.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter called for patience ahead of the publication of the official report. "Never ignoring media reports on ethics allegations in football. But let the Ethics Committee work!" he said on Twitter.
Never ignoring media reports on ethics allegations in football. But let the Ethics Committee work!— Joseph S Blatter (@SeppBlatter) June 7, 2014
Fifa is facing calls to re-run the contest for the 2022 World Cup. Even before the latest allegations there was concern over staging the tournament in the blistering desert conditions where football is a minority pastime. Demands that it be moved to the relatively cooler climes of the winter mean it would clash with the European football season.
The Qatari committee has said Mr Bin Hammam “played no official or unofficial role” in the bid committee.