While investigators continue to unravel the bribery, fraud and money-laundering charges in the FIFA scandal, executives at athletic giants tied to the sport are trying to keep a safe distance from the controversy that may inevitably dent their respective soccer businesses.
After seven FIFA officials were arrested in Switzerland Wednesday, two former soccer executives were charged by the U.S. in the indictment unsealed in a Brooklyn federal court Thursday. Additional arrests are expected as the investigation widens, according to Justice Department officials.
Nike dismissed allegations that it was the unnamed U.S. sportswear company referenced in the federal indictment released in Brooklyn that claimed bribes were paid in conjunction with the sponsorship of the Brazilian national soccer team. The indictment noted that “a major U.S. sportswear company” signed a 10-year $160 million endorsement deal with the Brazilian team in 1996. That timing and sponsorship coincides with Nike’s deal with Brazil’s team.
The indictment also noted that the unnamed sportswear company allegedly paid $40 million through a Swiss bank account, a portion of which was later used to swindle a high-ranking FIFA and Brazilian soccer executive.
A statement released by a Nike spokesman Friday read, “The charging documents unsealed yesterday in Brooklyn do not allege that Nike engaged in criminal conduct. There is no allegation in the charging documents that any Nike employee was aware of or knowingly participated in any bribery or kickback scheme.”
The statement continued, “Like everywhere we care passionately about the game and are concerned by the very serious allegations. Nike believes in ethical and fair play in both business and sport and strongly opposes any form of manipulation or bribery. We have been cooperating, and will continue to cooperate, with the authorities.”
In addition to its sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup soccer ball (through 2030), Adidas sponsors numerous national teams including the 2014 FIFA World Cup winners Germany and individual athletes like David Beckham and three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi. The German megabrand has also long supported the world’s most popular sport by developing soccer gear and apparel for more than 60 years. Adidas leads the soccer category with $2.7 billion in annual sales, with Nike ranking second with $2.3 billion.
An estimated 1 billion people worldwide reportedly tuned into some of last year’s FIFA World Cup final. Besides the FIFA World Cup, Adidas is also involved in other FIFA events, including the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013, the FIFA U-20 World Cups for women and men, as well as the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. Adidas suits up FIFA officials, referees, volunteers, on-field escorts, ball crew and even flag bearers in Adidas products from head to toe.
An Adidas spokeswoman said Thursday, “The Adidas Group is fully committed to creating a culture that promotes the highest standards of ethics and compliance, and we expect the same from our partners. Following today’s news, we can therefore only encourage FIFA to continue to establish and follow transparent compliance standards in everything they do.”
She continued, “As previously stated on several occasions, the negative tenor of the public debate around FIFA at the moment is neither good for football nor for FIFA and its partners.”
Executives at Mitre and Umbro, two other athletic brands rooted in soccer, did not respond to requests for comment Friday.
In other FIFA-related news Friday, Sepp Blatter was reelected as FIFA’s president, marking his fifth term as the leader of soccer’s international governing body.