Just when you think things cannot get much worse in the world of FIFA and international soccer, it turns out they can. The New York Times reported that FIFA has opened an ethics investigation into German officials who were involved with the country’s bid to host the 2006 World Cup. The people under investigation include “two former presidents of the German soccer federation, Wolfgang Niersbach and Theo Zwanziger, and Mr. Beckenbauer. Mr. Niersbach is a member of FIFA’s ruling executive committee, and Mr. Zwanziger and Mr. Beckenbauer are former members of that body,” according to the Times.
The FIFA investigation comes on the heels of the release of a report by a U.K. law firm in suspicious payments “linked to Germany’s successful bid. The report said it found no indication that votes were bought, but it did not rule out the possibility of corruption because it could not establish who ultimately received the money.” The payment in question was approximately $10.9 million and mislabeled as payment for a FIFA gala. It was made by the German soccer federation to the President of Adidas, through a FIFA account from there went to Switzerland and Qatar where the trail ran cold.
In addition to this obvious mislabeling of the payment to hide its true purpose, a troubling aspect of the internal investigation was that it appeared that certain key German federation officers refused to cooperate, save and except only through their lawyers. All of this seems to fit the same pattern as have been alleged to the winning countries of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup bids—Russia and Qatar, respectively. This time, however, there is involvement of European soccer royalty, in the person of Franz Beckenbauer who won a World Cup as a player and as a manager and was later president of the German national soccer federation.
Also troubling is the involvement of the head of the German shoe company Adidas. The intertwining relationship between sports apparel and sports marketing companies speak to a larger problem of porous membranes in commercial relationships and international sports authorities. Perhaps one can only mix metaphors by saying “watch this space” as more will be revealed.