FRANKFURT: Wolfgang Niersbach has resigned as president of the German football federation “with immediate effect” after meeting delegates from regional and state associations over the 2006 World Cup slush fund controversy writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Niersbach, an executive committee member of both world and European governing bodies FIFA and UEFA, had come under heavy pressure for the past three weeks over the mysterious €6.7m loan and repayment.
Before meeting the DFB council and then regional leaders Niersbach had said: “I am very confident that I can answer all the questions which colleagues, the heads of the regional associations and the public all expect.”
However that confidence proved only putting a brave face on an ignomious departure which had become inevitable sooner or later.
In a resignation statement he protested, “unequivocally” that he had no knowledge of the cash flow issue at the time. But he felt it only proper, “with a heavy heart” to stand down or the sake of the DFB itself.
A new twist to the affair had been the discovery of handwritten notes on a draft letter dating back to 2004 which suggested that Niersbach had known about the issue much earlier than he has admitted in preparations for the 2006 World Cup.
Also weighing on the DFB is an investigation by the German tax authorities which, last week, raided the DFB offices as well as the homes of Niersbach, presidential predecessor Theo Zwanziger and former former DFB general secretary Horst R Schmidt.
Leading politicians from the governing CDU had stepped up the pressure on Niersbach over the weekend.
Volker Bouffier, the first minister of Hesse, said: “I want the DFB to bring light into the darkness as soon as possible because this is a concern for many people. We need clarity as quickly as possible.”
MP Wolfgang Bosbach has also called on Franz Beckenbauer, president of the 2006 bid and then organising committees, to speak openly about the issue and what he knew.
At the heart of the issue is the sum of €6.7m which was paid by the German World Cup organising committee to FIFA, apparently declared internally as a subsidy for an opening gala which never took place.
In fact it appears the money was forwarded by FIFA, at the Germans’ request, to replay a private loan from the late Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the former Adidas owner and ceo.
Niersbach had claimed that FIFA had told Beckenbauer the payment was necessary to generate a hosting costs grant of €170m in return. This has been denied by FIFA.
Zwanziger told the news magazine Spiegel that Günter Netzer, then an executive with a Swiss marketing agency CWL, had told him the money was used to influence four Asian votes in the bidding process. Netzer has denied the comment and threatened to sue Zwanziger.
Rainer Koch has taken over as interim DFB president.
In a personal statement, Niersbach said:
I was there from the first day of the bid for the 2006 FIFA World Cup on the way to final documentation of the summer fairy tale and have worked in all those years at all times not only with great passion, but always cleanly, confidently and correctly.
In my assigned fields of marketing, media accreditations and event organization, I can say with a clear conscience that I believe I have absolutely nothing about which to reproach myself.
More depressing and painful for me is to have been confronted, nine years later, over undertakings at the time in which I was not involved and left open many questions for me.
I reiterate and make clear once again, unequivocally, that I had no knowledge of the the details of the cash flows. This has made my decision all the more difficult in having to suffer the political consequences.
Over 27 years serving the DFB was always much more than a profession. My work in the different functions was a labour of love for me.
I love football and this association in which I experienced wonderful moments and have worked with great people.
To protect the DFB and the presidential office I am resigning with a heavy heart as DFB president. Nevertheless, I will continue to contribute whatever I can for a comprehensive clarification of these events.