In Depth

Sponsors quit Fifa: has scandal made it commercially 'toxic'?

Football's governing body lost five backers last year as campaigners call for change at the top

Sepp Blatter Fifa

Is Fifa becoming commercially toxic? It would seem that football's governing body is in danger of becoming a brand so mired in controversy that many of the world's top companies are severing their ties with the organisation for fear of being tainted with the same scandalous brush.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Castrol, Continental and Johnson & Johnson have all "confirmed" to the paper that they chose not to renew their sponsorship contracts with Fifa when they expired last year – a decision similar to the one taken earlier in 2014 by Emirates and Sony.

The latter two companies were prestigious tier one 'partners' while Castrol, Continental and Johnson & Johnson are second-tier official World Cup sponsors.

Although none of the five stated publicly that they were abandoning Fifa because of the allegations of corruption that have bedevilled the organization in the last five years, the Telegraph comments that "the departure of so many in quick succession inevitably raises questions about whether Fifa has become toxic".

Fifa is estimated to make around £1bn a year from commercial deals and the fear within the organisation now is that other sponsors will follow suit, choosing not to back a brand that seems to stumble from one scandal to another.

Castrol's decision not to renew its deal only came to light when the company was sent a letter by New Fifa Now, a campaign the Telegraph describes as "aiming to impose reform on Fifa by putting pressure on those who bankroll it". A company responded by confirming they "have not been sponsors of Fifa since, I believe, the World Cup last year".

Fronted by Conservative MP Damian Collins, New Fifa Now was officially launched on Wednesday at the European Parliament in Brussels. Its aim is to put pressure on Fifa to reform from within, and the timing of the launch coincides with the start of the Fifa presidential election campaign, which will begin in earnest after next Thursday's deadline for nominations.

Sepp Blatter, who many see as the reason for Fifa's disintegrating reputation, intends to stand again despite the fact he turns 79 in a few weeks. The Swiss has held the position since 1998 and faces his biggest challenge yet for the presidency in the shape of Fifa vice-president Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, not to mention David Ginola.

Blatter's rivals should certainly be encouraged by the presence of New Fifa Now, although in the past Fifa has proved remarkably resilient in ignoring calls from outside to get its house in order. But if there's one thing Fifa understands it's the language of money, and the prospect of losing millions in sponsorship deals may finally prompt the organisation to reform.

"Fifa is a toxic brand," declared Damian Collins. "That's why companies who care about their reputation don't want to be associated with [it]... so I would call on all Fifa sponsors to reconsider their association with Fifa and call on football fans and the customers of those brands to speak out against them continuing any sponsorship association as well."

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