DUSSELDORF: Theo Zwanziger, former German federation president and a past member of the FIFA executive committee, has won the first round in a clash with the Qatar Football Association writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
Zwanziger, a long-time critic of the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to the Gulf state, had described Qatar as a “cancerous growth on world football” in an interview with a German radio station last June.
The QFA – in a rare sign from Qatar of concern at foreign criticism – sought to sue Zwanziger for defamation. Now Judge Joachim Matz in a Düsseldorf regional civil court has ruled that Zwanziger was within his rights of free speech.
This was a preliminary ruling, however, with the judge adding that he wanted more time to study the arguments before delivering a final ruling on April 19.
In the interview, Zwanziger had been asked whether the decision to let Qatar host the 2022 World Cup should be rerun after allegations of corruption in FIFA.
He replied that a review was “possible and necessary,” adding: “I have always said that Qatar was a cancerous growth on world football. It all started with that decision [in December 2010].”
The QFA said his statement amounted to “unacceptable slander and vilification” of Qatar and its citizens and sought €100,000 in damages and a court order barring Zwanziger from repeating his comments.
Zwanziger, 70, has countered that he was criticising the FIFA process that awarded the 2022 World Cup to the gas-rich country, adding: “I never, for a second, wanted to insult anyone from Qatar.”
Last year, Swiss prosecutors launched an investigation into the bidding process and award around the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which will be hosted by Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Zwanziger was not a member of the world federation’s executive committee when it voted the 2022 finals to Qatar; Germany’s representative at the time was Franz Beckenbauer. Zwanziger succeeded Beckenbauer on the exco in May 2011 and stepped down last May.