Emirates Airline, one of Fifa’s biggest sponsors, has waded into the growing storm that followed comments by Sepp Blatter that racial discrimination could be settled with a handshake.
The Dubai flag carrier, which has a sponsorship deal with the soccer governing body worth $195m, said it abhorred racism, but stopped short of criticising the FIFA president directly.
"Emirates completely abhors racism and supports Fifa's own fair-play initiative and commitment to abolishing all forms of discrimination in football," the airline said in a statement. It “continues to closely watch developments within FIFA.”
Blatter’s comments have been played out across news outlets, television channels and Twitter since last Tuesday – and in a direct row with Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, who blasted the 75-year-old for his claim.
The growing furore has left advertisers in a difficult spot, as fears rise that their association with troubled Fifa could lead to brand damage.
Emirates previously said it was mulling whether to end its sponsorship deal with the football organisation, which has been beset with scandals over bribery and corruption.
“We are seriously thinking about not renewing our partnership with FIFA beyond 2014,” Boutros Boutros, Emirates’s senior VP of corporate communications, said in November.
Blatter sought to pacify the situation on Friday by apologising for his remarks but has said he has no plans to step down, despite calls for him to go.
"I cannot resign," Blatter said. "Why should I?
Swiss-born Blatter released a later statement saying his comments had been misunderstood and pledged his commitment to stamping out racism in the sport over the rest of his term.
"What I wanted to express is that, as football players, during a match, you have 'battles' with your opponents, and sometimes things are done which are wrong," he said.
"But, normally, at the end of the match, you apologise to your opponent if you had a confrontation during the match, you shake hands, and when the game is over, it is over.”
FIFA has been roiled by a slew of corruption scandals in the past year that have spooked sponsors, who pay millions to be associated with the World Cup.
Emirates signed an eight-year contract with FIFA in 2006 worth $195m. Along with other lead partners, including Adidas, Sony, Visa and Coca-Cola, it expressed concern about claims of impropriety within the organisation in May when FIFA’s presidential election was tainted by allegations of vote-buying. That followed claims of wrongdoing against members of the executive who voted for where the World Cup would be staged in 2018 and 2022.
Blatter announced a raft of anti-corruption measures earlier this year, promising to cleanse the organisation by 2013. He has been president since 1998.