Soccer Corruption

German World Cup Scandal Deepens

niersbach in museum-reuters
Wolfgang Niersbach dodged reporters questions at the opening of the German soccer museum in Dortmund on Sunday.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Wolfgang Niersbach’s days as president of the German Football Association could be numbered.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • A cloud of doubt surrounds a €6.7million off-books payment made by the German football authorities to FIFA, the world governing body, in the early 2000s.
    • Some claim that the money bought votes to secure Germany’s hosting of the 2006 World Cup.
    • The former head of the German Football Association has openly accused the DFB president of lying about the financial scandal.
  • Audio

    Audio

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An old rivalry between Wolfgang Niersbach, the current president of the German Football Association, the DFB, and his predecessor, Theo Zwanziger, has turned terribly ugly in a deepening scandal over allegations that Germany may have bribed soccer officials to secure the right to host the 2006 World Cup.

“The money transfer was secret and thus illegal, and that’s a description for a slush fund,” Mr. Zwanziger said in a television interview on Sunday as part of the weekly news program provided by the newsmagazine, Der Spiegel. “There is no doubt about that.”

Mr. Zwanziger, who was the DFB president at the time, said it was “clear that president of the DFB didn’t learn about (the payment) a couple of weeks ago, as he claims, but has known about it at least since 2005.”

He added: “The way I see it, Niersbach is lying.”

Der Spiegel has alleged that then-Adidas chief executive Robert Louis-Dreyfus lent €6.7 million, or $7.5 million, to the German World Cup bid committee headed by soccer legend Franz Beckenbauer – to be used in a cash-for-votes deal to give the world’s premier soccer tournament to Germany by a one-vote margin over South Africa back in 2000.

Der Spiegel has also claimed that Mr. Niersbach and Mr. Beckenbauer were aware of the money loaned by Mr. Louis-Dreyfus to the German World Cup bid committee.

Mr. Niersbach, who was a member of the German World Cup organizing committee before taking over at the DFB in 2012, has denied any vote-buying and said the money was used as a payment to FIFA, football’s world-governing body, two years after German won the bid in 2000. He continues to insist the 2006 World Cup is still Germany’s innocent “summer fairy tale.”

“For me personally, the decisive thing is that everything is fully investigated, without heed to persons or reputations.”

Reinhard Rauball, President of the German League Association

Mr. Beckenbauer has remained silent since the scandal emerged a week ago. He decided not to attend a hastily arranged press conference with Mr. Niersbach on Thursday or make a scheduled appearance at the opening of the new German soccer museum in Dortmund on Sunday.

In his comments to Der Spiegel, Mr. Zwanziger claimed the money went to Mohamed Bin Hamman, the now disgraced former member of FIFA’s executive committee from Qatar.

At Thursday’s press conference, Mr. Niersbach presented a different story: The money was a counter-payment for a much larger sum, €170 million, advanced by FIFA to the DFB to help pay for the running of the World Cup.

But the DFB president admitted his version of events was vague. “I myself would be delighted to know more about precisely what happened,” he said, claiming only to have learned of these events in June of this year. But his handwriting is on a fax sent in November 2004, which arranged repayment of Mr. Louis-Dreyfus’s loan.

Horst Schmidt, a former vice-president of the World Cup organizing committee, admitted to learning of a €6.7 million loan from Mr. Louis-Dreyfus in the fall of 2004. He was informed about the deal, he said, by the former  player, Günter Netzer, today a prominent businessman and media commentator, and a close friend of the late Mr. Louis-Dreyfus.

“Soon afterwards, I informed the members of the executive committee about it,” Mr. Schmidt said.

niersbach and zwanziger-reuters
Mr. Niersbach and Mr. Zwanziger have had several feuds over the years. Source: Reuters

 

Some high-ranking German soccer officials ask why Mr. Zwanziger has chosen to speak out about the alleged payments to FIFA now, nearly nine years after the tournament took place in Germany.

“I don’t understand why this is happening now,” Joachim Löw, the coach of the German national team, told Kicker TV. “Mr. Zwanziger was involved in the organizing committee and was DFB president at the time. So why weren’t these issues discussed earlier?”

Oliver Bierhoff, the national team manager, asked the same question in an interview with the sports broadcaster: “Why didn’t Mr. Zwanziger clarify this years ago,” he said, adding that the association must quickly “answer all questions” about the alleged payments.

Pressure is growing on Mr. Niersbach.

“For me personally, the decisive thing is that everything is fully investigated, without heed to persons or reputations,” said Reinhard Rauball, president of the German League Association, which runs Germany’s top football leagues.

DFB vice president, Rainer Koch, who represents the influential football associations of southern Germany, distanced himself even more clearly. The crucial thing, he said, was that “the internal and external investigations commissioned by the executive committee press ahead with their work.”

“I myself would be delighted to know more about precisely what happened.”

Wolfgang Niersbach, President of the German Football Association

The DFB’s powerful regional bosses are keeping their distance too. In a letter, the chairs of the 21 regional associations have threatened to force Mr. Niersbach’s hand. They want a quick and comprehensive explanation from the president.

Many experts were appalled by Mr. Niersbach’s abject failure in communications, actually one of his strengths, as a former journalist and a long-serving DFB press officer. But at Tuesday’s press conference, he seemed completely overwhelmed. “I was horrified when I saw his pathetic appearance,” said a DFB executive who asked to remain anonymous. “If that was meant to get us out of this crisis, it had totally the opposite effect.”

Mr. Zwanziger said he met with Mr. Niersbach at Frankfurt Airport in November 2013, and insisted then that things be cleared up. Mr. Niersbach claimed to know nothing of that meeting either.

Who’s lying and who’s telling the truth will be the focus of an internal investigation by the international law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.

Besides the scandal, the DFB boss must also deal with accusations that the organization is badly run. “Corporate governance at the DFB urgently needs to be modernized, in many respects it is amateurish and shambolic,” said one corporate lawyer familiar with DFB affairs.

Mr. Niersbach’s successor is already a hot topic inside the DFB’s ruling presidium and among the regional football organizations. A field of four candidates has already emerged.

Mr. Koch, the DFB vice-president, has strong support among the southern regions. A judge in a Munich court, he was a one-time favorite to succeed Mr. Zwanziger, before the job eventually went to Mr. Niersbach.

Mr. Rauball, head of the German league association, has been talked up as a possible president by the Bayern Munich executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. But doubts remain over his desire for the job.

Reinhard Grindel, the DFB treasurer, is a federal parliamentarian for the governing Christian Democrat Union party. He is seen as a consummate dealmaker, but is relatively new to the association and lacks support among insiders.

An outside bet is Mr. Bierhoff, a former national team player before becoming its manager. He is respected as a modernizer, but seems unlikely to give up his well-paid position for a bureaucrat’s desk.

 

Volker Votsmeier is an editor with Handelsblatt’s investigative reporting team. John Blau is a senior editor with Handelblatt Global Edition. To contact the authors: votsmeier@handelsblatt.com and blau@handelsblatt.com

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