Brazil soccer probe to put harsh glare on Nike, other sponsors

Fri Jun 5, 2015 1:39am EDT
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By Brad Haynes and Anthony Boadle

SAO PAULO/BRASILIA (Reuters) - Nike Inc and some other big international companies face a grilling over their powerful role in Brazilian soccer as a former star player turned senator vows to expose what he describes as suspect marketing contracts and their links to corrupt payments.

Romario, a revered striker who led Brazil to victory at the 1994 World Cup wearing the U.S. sportswear giant's boots, is leading a new congressional probe into sponsorship deals in the wake of U.S. graft charges that have shaken the soccer world.

Three Brazilians were among those named and charged in the U.S. indictment, including a former head of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF).

Neither Romario nor Brazilian prosecutors have alleged that Nike did anything illegal, despite the company's $160 million deal in 1996 to sponsor Brazil's team being linked to kickback payments in the U.S. indictment released last week.

Nike was not named in the indictment but there was only one company that fit the prosecutors' description. In a statement last week, Nike noted that the charges did not allege it engaged in criminal conduct or that its employees were involved in or aware of bribery.

Romario, Brazil's leading voice for soccer reform whose playing fame boosts his influence, says he wants to investigate such sponsorship deals to see if they were used to funnel money to officials and exert undue influence on the sport.

The commission, which will start next week, will have the power to subpoena witnesses, bank records and private contracts, but cannot issue search or arrest warrants.

Among companies whose sponsorship deals with the Brazil team have come under scrutiny in recent years are airline TAM, the Brazilian arm of regional giant Latam Airlines Group, and Ambev SA, now a subsidiary of Budweiser-maker Anheuser-Busch InBev.   Continued...

The logo of Nike is seen in a storefront in Sao Paulo May 28, 2015.  REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker