Slush fund revelation bad news for Germany, FIFA and football

Deutsche Welle
7 Min Read

Revelations that the World Cup 2006 organizing committee had a secret slush fund have rocked Germany, UEFA and FIFA – all for different reasons. DW’s Jefferson Chase discusses the fall-out of a burgeoning scandal.
One indication of the sorry state of FIFA is the fact that almost everyone sees the circumstantial evidence produced by news magazine “Spiegel” as conclusive proof that Germany bribed Asian FIFA delegates to secure the 2006 World Cup.

For the record, what “Spiegel” reported was that: 1) the organizing committee maintained a secret slush fund worth 6.7 million euros donated by an Adidas executive; 2) German football legend Franz Beckenbauer and current German Football Association President (DFB) Wolfgang Niersbach knew about the fund; 3) the DFB later paid FIFA a corresponding sum to underwrite cultural events that never took place, and the money subsequently disappeared; 4) other influential German football figures acknowledged in private, unconfirmed conversations that the money had been used for bribes.

In another context such evidence might leave room for doubt that the World Cup was in some sense bought. Where FIFA is concerned, however, it would be naïve to assume that no corruption was involved.

As a prank, on the eve of FIFA’s executive committee deciding the host of the 2006 World Cup, the German satire magazine “Titanic” sent faxes to committee members promising them Black Forest ham, some “really good sausages” and cuckoo clocks if they voted for Germany. The point of the joke was clear: everybody knows you guys are for sale.

The DFB threatened to sue “Titanic” to the tune of 600 million deutschmarks. Now it appears the joke hit not only the mark but the center of the bull’s eye. The DFB denies the alleged bribes, but none of the major German newspapers are rushing to the association’s defense, and German politicians are calling for an official investigation.

That’s very bad news for the DFB – and not just for them.

Niersbach no savior

With both FIFA president Sepp Blatter and his on-again-off-again protégé Michael Platini currently suspended for other business dealings that sound more than dodgy, there has been lots of speculation recently that Niersbach might be a good choice to take over football’s world governing body and lead a fight against corruption.

It was a logical idea. The 2006 World Cup in Germany was a resounding success, and in the wake of Russia and Qatar controversially being awarded the next two World Cups, as well as a series of arrests of top FIFA executives, the head of one of the world’s most respected football associations seemed like just the man to get the world’s governing body back on track.

Not any more. Niersbach has categorically denied that Germany bought the World Cup, but the widespread perception that not everything was aboveboard at Germany football association rules its president out as a savior of a world governing body, whose credible has sunk to nearly absolute zero.

The slush fund revelations call into question the common assumption that European football functionaries and associations are exempt from the sort of crass corruption we in the West often associate with developing countries. Corruption, as is quickly becoming more and more apparent, has been rampant in the uppermost echelons of football throughout the new millennium.

Niersbach and by extension the German approach to the game are not a cure-all for what ails football. And that’s also proving a hard fact for many Germans to swallow.

Smudges on the halo

Four-time world champions Germany may have only come in third at the 2006 World Cup, but the event was a unique milestone in German history. The tournament was a smash hit, with Germany drawing unanimously rave reviews as a gracious, ultra-well-organized and eminently likeable host. For a nation with Germany’s checkered past, the 2006 World Cup was immeasurably valuable in terms of both generating good PR without and restoring self-esteem within.

The 2006 World Cup became known – somewhat bathetically – as the “summer fairy tale.” That’s why for many Germans, the growing indications that not all may have been kosher in the awarding process is something like a “zero hour” for German football.

The person who most typifies this constellation of issues is Franz Beckenbauer. The president of Germany’s 2006 World Cup Organizing Committee back then carries such a symbolic weight in German culture that he’s more commonly known as the Kaiser than in terms of any of the many major functions he’s held over the years. Beckenbauer represented everything successful, shiny and great about German football. Now he’s also associated with what is potentially one of its darker scandals.

It would have been crazy, of course, to expect that any one person or one football association could serve as a knight in shining armor to rescue a sport in distress from the evil clutches of the FIFA executive. And it would hardly have been realistic to think that no cash changed hands ahead of the awarding of the 2006 World Cup. Nonetheless, Friday’s revelations have left a bad taste in the mouths of fans in much of the world – and particular in the 2006 host nation.

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