DUSSELDORF: A German judge has confirmed his provisional ruling in favour of Theo Zwanziger, former German federation president and a past member of the FIFA executive committee, against 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. Last month Judge Joachim Matz, in a Düsseldorf regional civil court, ruled that Zwanziger appeared to be within his rights of free speech but delayed a final ruling to allow further time to consider the issues.
Today Judge Matz confirmed his original decision.
A judgment statement said: “Those criticising public abuses do not have to use the mildest possible medium to highlight their points of view.
“It has nothing to do with public defamation of the Qatar Football Association, as it was about the legality and checks regarding the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar that were at the forefront.
“With respect to the sporting, financial and political importance of a football World Cup host, the purpose for the comment, which was about drawing attention to the critical working process and decision of FIFA, is set higher than the honour of the Qatar Football Association.”
In his original 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 claimed 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, always insisted 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.
A Frankfurt prosecutor is currently investigating Zwanziger and other former football officials for suspected tax fraud in relation to a payment to FIFA ahead of to the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Zwanziger has welcomed the investigation, saying: “I don’t have any worries in that matter. I know that I tell the truth and that I don’t have to fear anything.”