NEW YORK (Reuters) - Major sponsors of world football went too far when they issued calls last month for the resignation of FIFA President Sepp Blatter, South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale and candidate to succeed Blatter, said on Tuesday.
In September, Swiss authorities said they were opening a criminal investigation into Blatter, who has led FIFA since 1988. It was the latest blow to FIFA's reputation after U.S. prosecutors announced indictments in May accusing top football officials and marketing executives of multi-million dollar bribery schemes over 24 years. In response to the scandals, Coca-Cola Co , McDonald's, Visa, and Budweiser owner Anheuser-Busch InBev, companies that have long linked their brand names to football, issued almost simultaneous statements in October demanding Blatter step down immediately in a strong push for change at the organization.
Sexwale is one of the candidates vying to be elected president of FIFA in a vote next February. He criticized the statements made by some of the sponsors. "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," Sexwale said at a conference on sport security in New York. Sexwale praised instead a more muted statement by sportswear company Adidas, which supported FIFA reforms efforts without calling for Blatter's ouster. "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 there is a way of doing things without you saying so-and-so should go," he said.
Blatter has denied any wrongdoing. FIFA's ethics committee last month suspended him for 90 days. Sexwale, who spent 13 years in prison under apartheid until 1990 and then became a provincial premier four years later, also said that within the next two weeks he would issue a "manifesto" on his ambitions for FIFA should he be elected president. He said the running of FIFA was "not going to be a one man show" but rather he would seek to rely on the "collected wisdom" of elected FIFA officials. Sexwale said he would try to ensure that power in the sport is more widely shared around the world.
Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Mark Hosenball; editing by Grant McCool