Soccer Corruption

Game with a Hidden Agenda

Beckenbauer DPA
Franz Beckenbauer.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The German Football Association, the DFB, needs to clear up the World Cup scandal and establish a new structure with processes that ensure greater transparency and accountablity.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Franz Beckenbauer is widely regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of soccer, but he’s fallen into disrepute due to his involvement in corruption around Germany’s 2006 World Cup bid.
    • Former DFB President Wolfgang Niersbach resigned two weeks ago due to tax evasion and corruption allegations.
    • Reinhard Grindel, the German Football League’s treasurer, was considered the favorite to replace Mr. Niersbach, but the professional clubs opposed his move to fill the top job.
  • Audio

    Audio

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As officials of the German Football Association, the DFB, emerged from the crisis summit in Frankfurt on Friday, they appeared at great pains to put on a show of unity.

The 16 members of the assocation’s executive committee had spent more than four hours trying to find a way to end the scandal tainting Germany’s FIFA World Cup in 2006, and move on with the business of electing a new president. But the group failed to reach a consensus on a candidate to replace Wolfgang Niersbach, who resigned from the position two weeks ago.

Mr. Niersbach’s resignation came amid a controversy over a €6.7 million ($7.2 million) payment to soccer’s world governing body FIFA in 2005. The payment has been linked to a deal to buy votes for the hosting rights to the 2006 World Cup.

A week before his resignation, authorities launched a tax-evasion investigation that included raids on his home and DFB headquarters.

“Sure, in hindsight some things seem a little strange and there are other things that one wouldn't deal with the same way today, but it was all well meant.”

Franz Beckenbauer, Former World Cup Organizing Committee Head

The hope that “Der Kaiser” (The Emperor), as Franz Beckenbauer is known in Germany, could clear up some of the unanswered questions around the 2006 World Cup proved futile. Mr. Beckenbauer headed Germany’s efforts to win the bid and was later put in charge of the tournament’s organizing committee.

In an interview with the Süddeutsche newspaper, he came across as clueless, saying he had just “blindly signed” whatever contracts were put in front of him.

The soccer legend had long refused to discuss the process behind awarding the 2006 FIFA World Cup, but when he finally broke his silence over the weekend, he still failed to shine a light into the murk surrounding his involvement in the alleged FIFA bribery scandal.

Mr. Beckenbauer had no answers and seemingly no recollection of the contract he countersigned with the now disgraced FIFA official Jack Warner in July 2000 – just four days before the final vote on who would host the 2006 tournament.

He said he had “just signed” thousands of documents during that time and never asked what they were.

“Sure, in hindsight some things seem a little strange,” Mr. Beckenbauer said, “and there are other things that one wouldn’t deal with the same way today, but it was all well meant.”

At the meeting, DFB officials agreed to an urgent need to thoroughly investigate the World Cup scandal and introduce structural reforms.

But the 21 regional associations of the DFB were far from happy with the fact that Friday’s meeting in Frankfurt failed to elevate their chosen candidate to the presidency. The debate was heated between the amateurs and the professionals over how to resolve the crisis.

The professional clubs favor a continuing dual presidency until the corruption scandal is cleared up.

world cup 2006_germany
The 2006 World Cup came to be known in Germany as the “summer fairytale.” Source: Marcel Mettelsieffen/DPA

 

The 21 regional and state associations that represent Germany’s amateur football clubs in the Bundesliga are eager to fill the top job as quickly as possible. They have demanded an extraordinary DFB meeting in December to elect a new president. With their two-thirds majority, their favorite candidate, Reinhard Mr. Grindel, treasurer of the German Football League or DFL should be a shoo-in.

But bad blood has crept into relations between the amateur associations and the professional clubs. The chairman of Borussia Dortmund, Hans-Joachim Watzke, openly criticized the 21 amateur associations for choosing Mr. Grindel as their candidate without consulting the pro clubs, and then putting him forward just days before the DFB board meeting.

“We feel snubbed,” he said. “This is an ugly story for the whole of football.”

Mr. Watzke said he preferred having a dual-presidency for a period of at least three years with “maybe with Reinhard Grindel and a league representative.”

By league representative,  Mr. Watzke meant the lawyer Reinhard Rauball, who is currently one of the two caretaker presidents.

But Mr. Rauball, who will turn 69 in December, recently ruled out replacing Mr. Niersbach. It’s widely believed his personal plans are to run for the DFL presidency next year.

Pressure to reform the DFB is growing among politicians as well. Özcan Mutlu, a Green Party member of the German parliamentary sports committee, said it wouldn’t be good idea to rush the election of a new DFB president.

“A credible new beginning needs time,” he said. “Ultimately, we’re talking about the biggest national sporting federation in the world.”

Mr. Mutlu has called for a supervisory body to effectively oversee the management of the DFB, consisting of an independent anti-corruption officer and an ethics council, which can investigate specific allegations.

The Green politician doesn’t see Mr. Grindel as an ideal candidate to fill the DFB’s presidential role due to conflicts of interest in the past.

Mr. Grindel took part in the German parliamentary sports committee’s debate on the alleged slush fund linked to the 2006 World Cup in his dual roles as treasurer of the DFB and an elected parliamentary member of  Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party.

Responding to criticism, Mr. Grindel said he would resign from parliament if elected as the new DFB president.

He already announced his intention to step down from the parliamentary sports committee.

The most important duty of the new president will be to rebuild unity between the amateur and professional clubs.

Turmoil at the DFB was overshadowed briefly by the Paris terrorist attacks, which saw suicide bombers blow themselves up outside Paris’s Stade de France where France and Germany were playing a friendly match. A friendly between Germany and the Netherlands, which was due to play in Hanover last week, was canceled at the last minute due to what police said was a credible threat. The match was supposed to be a symbol of solidarity and defiance against the terrorists.

Over the weekend, a strange atmosphere reigned at German soccer games. Many fans combated their inner fear about going to the games.

Heightened security measures were in place, resulting in traffic jams near the stadiums and long queues of fans waiting to enter them. Most fans handled the higher security measures patiently.

The clubs had asked fans not to bring flares and firecrackers into the stadiums. The plea, however, went unheard at some games, like the second-tier match between Düsseldorf and Duisburg, where fans lit flares.

Some games experienced other disruptions. In Gelsenkirchen, a group of Bayern Munich fans stormed a ticket booth ahead of a game against FC Schalke before turning on others at the game. Mobile phone videos showed  militant fans wearing ski masks, punching and kicking people. Police described the assault as extremely violent and arrested 196 people.

Bayern-Munich President Karl-Heinz Rummenigge distanced himself and the club from the hooligans.

“It’s absolutely impossible for me, or any of us to understand how anyone can behave in such a disrespectful way to society and to the game at precisely this moment, after the terrible events of Paris,” he said.

Many fans at the weekend games felt concerned about being in crowded stadiums as possible terrorist targets.

“During the minute’s silence at the beginning of the game, I felt a bit queasy and couldn’t help but reflect on things,” said one Schalke fan who had turned up to the Schalke-Bayern game.

 

Markus Hennes is an editor with Handelsblatt in Düsseldorf. To contact the author: hennes@handelsblatt.com

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