Germany Wakes Up From FIFA Fairytale


Since the Second World War, German patriotism has been a love that dare not speak its name. But there are two areas of German life where nationalism isn’t verboten: business and football.

Mainstream German media still revels in German companies’ success in selling goods overseas — and in its trade surplus. The tabloids love to call the Federal Republic the Exportweltmeiter, the world champion exporter.

For the past three years, China has exported more goods than Germany. Still, German growth during the Euro crisis has offered new opportunities for German ministers to vaunt the country’s goods.

Meanwhile, a month after the German team’s limp loss to Italy in the semifinals of the Euro championship, stores in Berlin are still selling confectionary coloured red, black and gold. The national Mannschaft may not quite be Brazil. But Germany does make it into the semifinals of most major tournaments.

Flagwaving became acceptable again for average Germans in 2006. Then, Berlin hosted the World Cup. Years later, that successful World Cup is still remembered as the Sommermärchen — the fairytale summer.

In other words, Berlin 2006 was a coming out, of a sort, for the new, politically powerful Germany. And this is why FIFA boss Sepp Blatter provoked national outrage last week when he accused Germany of buying its 2006 fairytale.

Blatter is less popular than a Greek finance minister in Berlin these days. "When a player has racked up too many sins, then he’s forced to leave the field," sniffed the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung last week, calling for the "final whistle" on the FIFA boss’ career.

What started the fuss? In an interview with a Swiss tabloid last Sunday, Blatter said he had "determined" later on that Germany had bought off one of the FIFA panel, who abstained at the last moment. Kiwi Charles Demsey’s abstention swung bidding for the 2006 championship for Germany. "I was probably too well intentioned and naive," Blatter confided in Blick.

Demsey from New Zealand is now deceased, and so cannot confirm or deny the charges. Yet he wasn’t the target of Blatter’s assertions, which the football functionary is now denying having said. Blatter was reacting to calls from German politics and media for the football boss to go.

Green and social democratic parliamentarians in Germany demanded Blatter quit the manager’s job at FIFA. Francophone daily L’Expression in Algeria quoted Green Euro MP Reinhard Bütikofer: "It’s been shown that Sepp Blatter is an integral part of the corruption at FIFA — that’s why we should retract his German order of merit."

Yet why was Swiss citizen Blatter awarded the accolade in the first place?

L’Expression again: "Swiss-born Blatter was awarded the order of merit by German chancellor Angela Merkel in 2006 after the organising rights to the World Cup were granted to Germany for that year." 

These are just the latest allegations in what’s become known as the "FIFA scandal".  As Colombia’s El Tiempo reported last week, it’s now been proven that Blatter’s predecessor at FIFA, Joao Havelange, received multi-million bribes in Swiss francs during the 1990s. Defunct sports marketing company ISL wired a total of 12.7 francs to Havelange’s account between 1992 and 1997.

ISL was then in charge of selling commercial rights to the World Cup "on behalf of FIFA". But it "collapsed in 2001 with debts of more than 300 million francs", says El Tiempo.

Blatter has now admitted he knew that ISL was bribing Havelange and another FIFA official, Ricardo Textiera, after one of the payments went awry and ended up in a FIFA account, according to Spain’s Heraldo. Still, the FIFA boss insists those payments "weren’t illegal" under Swiss law at the time.

Those who have examined FIFA closely say the current bribery scandal may be only first of several. The British journalist who uncovered the scandal, Andrew Jennings, reveals in an interview with Chile’s La Tercera that there’s an FBI investigation open into "huge amounts" of FIFA "money laundering and several countries" in Central Europe.

Still, despite all the PR damage to organisation, Blatter is refusing to go. The functionary, who is now serving his fourth the leading the World Cup organiser, has even taken to presenting himself as the Mr Sheen of the FIFA anti-corruption clean-up in recent days.

Blatter has now signalled that a "process of renewal" is underway at the organisation, reports Italian business paper Il Sole 24 Ore. Most tangibly, he wants to abolish the organisation’s statute of limitations for cases of corruption", says the paper. And a "new code of ethics" is on its way for football organisers, Blatter has promised.

This process of "renewal" apparently began with Blatter’s reelection in 2011, which was marred by the expulsion of his rival Mohammed bin Hamman from FIFA. Bin Hamman allegely bribed Carribean voters with stuffed envelopes. The charges have never been proven.

And despite all the scandals, Blatter is not likely to depart FIFA soon, comments Italian independent online site Lettera 43. That’s because given that many of his critics at the organisation are too scared to speak out. The paper says although there is growing criticism of Blatter’s management of the organisation, those close to Blatter say that he’s an "authoritarian, despotic, vindictive and clever sort".  So for now, criticism of the FIFA boss is likely to be limited to "whispers in the corridors that are never expressed openly", comments Lettera 43.

The latest phase FIFA’s power games come just after Italy’s team faced a match fixing scandal.  It also comes at a time where prominent corruption scandals have afflicted governments in most of Southern and Eastern Europe. With even the sports pages filled with reports of FIFA corruption, the London Olympics are unlikely to offer more than a temporary respite from Europe’s political contretemps.

ABOUT BEST OF THE REST: It’s a big world out there and plenty of commentators and journalists are writing about it — but not always in English. And not surprisingly, ideas about big events of the day shift when you move away from the Anglosphere. Best of the Rest is a fortnightly NM feature by Berlin-based journalist Charles McPhedran. Charles reads the news in French, German, Spanish and Portuguese and reports on what the rest of the world is saying about the big stories. 

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