FIFA presidential candidate Tokyo Sexwale has warned against the dangers of “sponsor activism” as world football’s governing body seeks to clean up its act.
Sexwale is set to contest an election in February to decide FIFA’s next president, while the incumbent Sepp Blatter is serving a 90-day suspension.
Shortly before Blatter became the subject of a FIFA Ethics Committee investigation, Coca Cola and McDonald’s issued statements demanding the 79-year-old stood down immediately.
South African Sexwale, whose candidacy suffered a blow last week when the Confederation of African Football refused to guarantee the block support of its 54 nations, believes such actions by sponsors set a dangerous precedent.
“Coca Cola, Budweiser; these companies, partners of FIFA have got the right to speak. But I think we should be very careful how far we go with sponsors’ activism,” he said.
“So they said ‘Mr Blatter should go’ – fine, okay. ‘And if he doesn’t go we’ll pull out our money’ – okay.
“What they did not mean, and what they did not see is that in saying ‘we’ll pull out our money’ that, if he doesn’t go, they’re about to appoint the next FIFA president or the president of any organisation that will be afflicted by similar problems.”
Sexwale, a businessman and former political prisoner, felt the more measured statement issued by Adidas – calling for thorough reform, but stopping short of demanding a change of leadership – points the way forward to other FIFA sponsors.
“It should have ended where Adidas said ‘we think that systems must be fixed up – get this thing working’,” he added.
“So one of the things that needs to be done – in giving confidence and building back the brand of FIFA – is to sit down with the sponsors and say ‘you know you have got a word, there’s a way of you doing these things without you saying so and so should go.”