It turns out World Cup corruption isn’t limited to your Qatars, Russias and other developing parts of the soccer world. No, even the most historic of soccer strongholds, like Germany, aren’t immune to FIFA’s infamous pay-to-play game.
According to a report today from the Der Spiegel, Germany won the right to host the 2006 World Cup with the aid of a 10.3 million Swiss franc slush fund supplied by former Adidas chief executive officer Robert Louis-Dreyfus. The funds were used to secure votes of four Asian representatives on FIFA’s 24-person executive committee, giving Germany enough votes to host the 2006 finals.
“The money had been paid into a FIFA bank account in Geneva,” Der Spiegel reported, according to the Associated Press. “From there, FIFA allegedly promptly transferred the money to a Zurich account belonging to Louis-Dreyfus.”
Louis-Dreyfus, who died in 2009, was repaid after Germany secured the World Cup. According to Der Spiegel, Franz Beckenbauer, who headed the bid committee, and Wolfgang Niersbach, the current head of the German federation, knew about the slush fund in 2005, at the latest.
In July 2000, Germany was competing with South Africa, England and Morocco for hosting rights to the 2006 tournament, with England and Morocco eliminated from the process after two rounds of voting. After the second ballot, Germany and South Africa each had 11 of the committee’s 24 votes. On the final ballot, Germany won by a 12-to-11 vote, with Oceania’s representative abstaining from the process after being pressured to vote for South Africa.
South Africa was awarded the 2010 World Cup, but had it not been for Germany’s slush fund, Africa would have had its first finals four years earlier. According to today’s report, Germany used Louis-Dreyfus’s funds, then valued at $6 million, to augment the eight-vote European block it had already secured. The four Asian votes pushed Germany to 12, meaning the country only had to pull one more vote into its camp to have a majority.
Although Germany never got that vote, the slush fund’s power still came good. When Charlie Dempsey, Oceania’s representative, abstained in the third round of the 2000 vote, Germany had its majority, ensuring FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s tie-breaking vote, which would have gone to South Africa, was not cast.
This isn’t the first allegation of corruption surrounding Germany’s 2006 bid. Earlier this summer, German outlet Die Zeit reported the German government sent Saudi Arabia grenade launchers in exchange for support in their bid. Even before that, Dempsey’s decision cast doubt on the validity of the process, with New Zealand’s sports minister calling the surprise abstention of his countryman “distressing and embarrassing.”
With that history surrounding the 2006 World Cup vote, today’s revelations fall far short of shocking. They do, however, add to a growing list of scandals surrounding FIFA, which has seen its president secretary general and a powerful executive committee member recently suspended. This is in addition to the United States Department of Justice investigation that’s led to 14 indictments as well as an ongoing criminal investigation from the Swiss government.
In that sense, the most alarming parts of today’s report are the scale of Germany’s involvement as well as the participation of an active Adidas representative. To this point, there has been little hard evidence of collusion between soccer official representatives and their sponsors. If anything, sponsors have begun pushing back against the graft they’ve come to support. Here, however, is evidence that the most powerful officer at Adidas, one of the game’s oldest and most powerful sponsors, was colluding with one of its most valued partners to secure the World Cup.
This isn’t the perception of corruption we get from those that want to go back to the ways – those who deride the democracy of giving all members — even developing nations with little soccer history — a say in the process. This is Germany, one of FIFA’s cornerstone nations, as well as Adidas, the governing body’s most valuable partner. This is the old school showing that corruption likely transcends CONCACAF and CONMEBOL scandals; that in lieu of strength in numbers, older, more established members can leverage their strength in prestige, potentially using the powerful relationships they’ve cultivated over the years to affect the same types of corruption.
This is why nations in Africa, Asia, North and South America supported Blatter for so long. For most of FIFA’s history, corruption like this was the rule – corruption that screwed places like Africa out of World Cups. Thanks to the stances of officials in nations like England, France and Germany — nations that get the most coverage in the western media — we were given a devil to know, that of corruption festering in the rest of the soccer world. As today’s news reminds us, those stances only obscured corruption that’s always been endemic to FIFA, which somehow, ironically became the devil we ignored.
Between the allegations around Germany and Adidas, as well as Michel Platini, this clearly goes beyond the support that kept Blatter in office, making any worries about who will replace the soon-to-depart president even more prescient. Rather than seeing FIFA as a body incapable of preventing corruption, it may be better to see it as one defined by graft, scandal and abuse. Surely there are nations that don’t take part in this, but they appear to be few and far between. And they seem incapable of preventing the flow of scandal that’s emanated from Zurich and Europe for the last six months.
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