It’s an understatement to say the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is in crisis. The world governing body for track and field has been rocked with allegations of bribery and corruption at its highest levels. Former senior executives have been taken into police custody and its former president has had his passport confiscated by French authorities. But even with all this, it seemed as if it would simply weather the storm with only a PR black eye.
That is, until the last few weeks.
On January 25, Adidas, which had committed to an 11-year sponsorship with the IAAF in 2008, announced it was breaking ties with the organization three years early, costing the IAAF as much as $24 million. And then on Wednesday, Nestle, the main sponsor of its Kids’ Athletics since 2012, also jumped ship a year early, according to the Associated Press, for an undisclosed sum.
“This decision was taken in light of negative publicity associated with allegations of corruption and doping in sport made against the IAAF," Nestle said in a statement to the AP.
The IAAF still has quite a few sponsors on its roster, including Canon, Seiko, TDK, and Toyota. And it endured the Adidas announcement with stoic reserve. But maybe because of its cumulative effect, it has handled the Nestle announcement with very different tact, telling the AP that it was "in discussion with Nestle concerning the final year of its five-year partnership"—a possible euphemism for legal action should Nestle proceed with its decision, which Nestle claimed was in “immediate effect.”
Many, including the BBC, speculated that the cancelation of the Adidas sponsorship was in response to the apparel and shoe giant’s reported $1.1 billion sponsorship of the Manchester United soccer club. Similar allegations have been made via social media against Nestle after the news, suggesting the company is simply hoping to use the IAAF’s missteps as an excuse to save marketing dollars.
But what these speculations have in common is that the IAAF has made missteps. The IAAF has gift-wrapped an excuse for its sponsors to save money.