KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY
— If FIFA president Sepp Blatter hoped that FIFA Congress eight days ago had drawn a firm line under all the angry acrimony of the previous, scandal-hit year, he should forget it. Fury at FIFA is still bubbling away. Uli Hoeness, for one, believes Europe’s most powerful nations might threaten to boycott the World Cup unless significant and rapid change went ahead.
Hoeness, one-time Germany World Cup-winner and now president of Champions League Bayern Munich, threw down the gauntlet during a meeting with the Journalisten-vereinigung Netzwerk Recherche (Association of Investigative Journalists) in Hamburg. The Bayern boss spared no-one from criticism, not even his club’s honorary president and old team-mate Franz Beckenbauer.
FIFA Congress in Budapest heard Blatter and his assorted reform task forces report on their initial, cautious steps forward. One of the task forces is headed by Theo Zwanziger, who stepped down as president of the German federation early this year; Beckenbauer, who quit the FIFA executive committee last year, heads a task force examining ways to ‘brighten up’ World Cup football.
Hoeness made it clear he has been singularly unimpressed.
He said: “Many [FIFA] decisions in the past 10 or 15 years have not been taken with proper concern for what was right and proper. If the big European federations got together maybe they could achieve a change for the better.”
Hoeness, pointing out that Europe generated between 80pc and 90pc of world football’s wealth, added: “England, France and Germany , maybe even at the political level, should get together to ensure that the FIFA decision-makers get their house in order.”
He referred to a conversation between Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and British Sports Minister Hugh Robertson, at the Champions League Final at Wembley last year. Hoeness said: “He told us it was time to drain to swamp but since then we’ve heard nothing more.”
Hoeness suggested that the ultimate weapon was a boycott of the World Cup because FIFA would suffer signficant damage from the drop of television revenue and sponsorship support if even Germany, to name but one, pulled out. He could even envisage the world’s most powerful nations launching their own, rival, World Cup.
Zwanziger’s role within FIFA had been significantly weakened by his loss of authority within the German domestic game. Hoeness said: “I’m sure he works there with the best of intentions but because he does not have the DFB behind him he lacks any real power. I’ve heard we should not to expect too much from him.”
It would be unfair, thought Hoeness, to describe Zwanziger as “a lame duck” because his command of English was “not good enough for him to understand” the phrase.
Hoeness was not as withering on the subject of Beckenbauer’s status within FIFA. He said: “I’m sure Franz knows plenty but he is still too much on the inside.”
Asked whether he thought Blatter might one day receive the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of football’s worldwide development work, Hoeness said: “If that’s a serious prospect then I’m the next conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.”
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