Visa threatens to end FIFA backing if reforms unsatisfactory

LONDON (AP) Major sponsor Visa has told FIFA that it could cut ties with soccer’s scandal-tarnished governing body if the credit card company is not satisfied with the reforms being implemented.

Visa vice chair Ellen Richey disclosed details of the renewed warning to FIFA while answering questions on Wednesday at a British parliamentary hearing into the soccer corruption crisis.

Richey appeared alongside executives from McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and Budweiser brewer Anheuser-Busch, who stopped short of issuing the same threat over the futures of their sponsorships.

Visa has reservations about the large number of people with existing ties to FIFA who are formulating governance changes – which could include term limits for executives and stripping presidents of some of their financial decision making. The only independent member of FIFA’s reform committee is chairman Francois Carrard, with the other panel members appointed by the global soccer confederations.

”There needs to be further work on an independent advisory board,” Richey said. ”We have certainly also informed FIFA on multiple occasions that if we are not satisfied in that regard we will reassess our sponsorship.”

Visa has sponsored FIFA since 2007 and has a contract through 2022.

Sponsors and commercial partners contributed $1.6 billion of FIFA’s $5.7 billion windfall in 2011-2014, which encompassed the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

The House of Commons culture, media and sport committee heard concerns from legislators about how sponsors’ cash was being used by FIFA, given that alleged financial mismanagement is at the heart of the criminal investigations launched by American and Swiss authorities.

”We have asked (FIFA) those (expenditure) questions and we will continue to,” said Peter Franklin, a director at Coca-Cola, a FIFA sponsor for more than 40 years.

”We pay our fee according to our contractual obligations and we have asked for confirmation the money was being spent appropriately,” Franklin added.

Visa’s Richey added that ”the level of transparency for the accounts within FIFA was quite inadequate.”

Earlier in the hearing, English Football Association chairman Greg Dyke highlighted the role of FIFA’s external auditor KPMG.

”Where has KPMG been for all these years? Quite big sums of money do not appear to have been accounted for,” Dyke said.

The criminal probe involving Sepp Blatter, who is suspended from his role as FIFA president, relates to a previously-secret 2011 payment of 2 million Swiss francs (around $2 million) to UEFA President Michel Platini.

Platini claimed it was salary owing to him from his job as a FIFA adviser between 1998 and 2002, but there was no written contract.

”The first thing I would have done is sent in forensic accountants to go through the last 10 years,” Dyke said. ”Where has the money come from and gone?”

Dyke said the FA is to consult with lawyers over Blatter’s suggestion in an interview with Russian state news agency TASS that there was an agreement in place for the 2018 World Cup to be awarded to Russia before the vote took place in 2010. England spent more than $30 million on its failed bid for the tournament.

”If (Blatter) is saying `We wanted Russia’ and it looks like he wanted that fixed before the vote, it’s suggesting that it was all fixed anyway,” Dyke said.

”It would be very nice to get taxpayers’ money back.”

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