The German soccer world is astonished. And furious. In an interview published by the Swiss paper Blick on Sunday, Sepp Blatter, president of the international governing body of football, FIFA, hinted that the vote to award the 2006 World Cup tournament to Germany may have been altered by bribery.
When asked by the paper about rumors of corruption surrounding the decisions to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar, respectively, Blatter responded: "World Cups being purchased…. I am reminded of the World Cup allotment for 2006, when someone left the room at the last moment. And instead of 10:10, the vote was suddenly 10:9 in favor of Germany…. Perhaps in that situation I was also too well-meaning and naïve."
The reaction from Germany and elsewhere has been prompt. "I am unable to comprehend the statements and insinuations from Sepp Blatter," Franz Beckenbauer, the éminence grise of German football, said in an interview with the German tabloid Bild on Monday. Theo Zwanziger, former head of the German Football Association, told Sport Bild Online that: "I know of no indications that anything at all was askew in any way."
Even former FIFA functionary Guido Tognoni blasted Blatter for his comments, saying: "Sepp Blatter was always there. If Sepp Blatter now accuses the Germans of anything, then they apply to him as well." Speaking to German television on Monday morning, Tognoni added: "He could have stopped everything if it wasn't clean…. To make accusations now is rather cheap, I feel. The fact is, things have happened during Sepp Blatter's FIFA presidency that shouldn't have happened."
'The Ball Rolling'
Tognoni was likely referring to revelations last week that Blatter knew of bribery payments received by his predecessor, João Havelange, and Havelange's former son-in-law, the FIFA functionary Ricardo Teixeira, in the 1990s. According to Swiss prosecutor documents made public last Wednesday, the pair received 41 million Swiss francs (€34.1 million, $41.8 million) from the marketing agency ISL in exchange for television rights for the 2002 and 2006 World Cup tournaments.
The documents indicate a certain "P1" knew about the payments. Blatter revealed last week that he was "P1," but he has defended himself against calls that he should step down. Initially, he said that the payments were not illegal at the time they were made, despite Swiss prosecutors' having filed charges of embezzlement against Havelange and Teixeira.
In the interview printed in Blick on Sunday, Blatter took a different tack, saying that he only learned of the illegal payments once ISL collapsed in 2001, and that FIFA then took immediate steps. "It was FIFA that made a criminal complaint at the time and thereby got the ball rolling in the ISL case," he said.
The documents from the Swiss prosecutor, however, allege that FIFA went to great lengths to cover up the bribery, a view shared by the anti-corruption organization Transparency International, which had been working with Blatter on efforts to reform the football organization. "If the president of FIFA for years did not act on the knowledge that these payments had been made for senior executives' personal gain, and tried to hide it for as long as possible, then it is difficult to trust him as the person to reform FIFA in the future," senior Transparency International adviser Sylvia Schenk told the Guardian.
In his interview with Blick, Blatter said that the 96-year-old Havelange should be relieved of his current position as honorary FIFA president. "He can't remain honorary president after these incidents," Blatter told the paper.
Blatter's comments regarding the awarding of the 2006 World Cup tournament to Germany were particularly noteworthy, coming as they did on the heels of calls from German football functionaries for the FIFA president to resign. Reinhard Rauball, head of the association of professional soccer teams in Germany, called Blatter on Friday to ask him to step down, a phone call that the FIFA president confirmed in his Sunday interview. German Football Association head Wolfgang Niersbach likewise blasted Blatter over the weekend, calling his behavior "shocking."
Still, Blatter's insinuation that the choice for Germany for the 2006 tournament was not entirely above board is not exactly new. Guido Tognoni himself, now a critic of Blatter's, said essentially the same thing in December 2010. He too was responding to a question, posed by the German public broadcaster ZDF, regarding the awarding of the World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar. In the interview, he referred to the last-minute abstention and said that the vote in favor of Germany had been "organized."
A couple of months later, Tognoni said during a sports congress in Düsseldorf that the German government had even gone so far as to "lift a weapons embargo against Saudi Arabia to get the vote of a Saudi delegate."
That, though, would now seem to be forgotten. On Monday, Tognoni said that Blatter, by pointing his finger at Germany, had "shot himself in the foot."