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Sports

Opinion: Niersbach’s resignation reveals depth of DFB scandal

The German FA - the DFB - has been largely concerned with limiting the damage caused by allegations about a slush fund linked to the 2006 World Cup. DW's Jefferson Chase writes that this tactic is no longer going to fly.

Wolfgang Niersbach's resignation as DFB president took the journalists assembled to cover the board's crisis meeting in Frankfurt by complete surprise. The DFB was expected to circle the wagons and continue denying that anything majorly improper had occurred in the awarding of the 2006 World Cup. That strategy is now out the window.

In his statement to the press, Niersbach himself was at pains to point out that he was quitting his post in order to "take political responsibility" for the scandal surrounding a 6.7-million-euro ($7.2 million) slush fund revealed by "Spiegel" news magazine last month. The implication is that the wrong-doing lay elsewhere. But Niersbach's statement confirms that wrong was indeed done.

Chase Jefferson Kommentarbild App

DW's Jefferson Chase

Neither Niersbach nor DFB vice presidents Reinhard Rauball and Rainer Koch specified what the improprieties were. They merely said that an independent investigation by the Freshfields law firm had turned up information that required someone - in this case - Niersbach to take a fall for the good of the football association's reputation. "Stepping aside in order to allow the investigation to proceed" is how this is phrased in professional sport-functionary waffle.

The immediate suspicion is that the new information concerns something far worse than incompetent accounting or intentional or unintentional tax evasion. Niersbach's resignation and the DFB tacit acknowledgement of major impropriety in the past will only further fuel speculation that the 6.7 million euros were used, partially or fully, to buy the Asian FIFA Executive Committee votes Germany needed to secure the 2006 World Cup.

"Spiegel," which launched this hypothesis, has never been able to produce a smoking gun to definitively prove its assertion. But the fact that Germany's most respected newsmagazine has been willing to go out on such a contentious limb suggests that editorial management there is pretty sure that the allegation is true. And despite numerous threats of lawsuits from various aggrieved parties, as of this writing no one has taken legal action.

The German public, which until recently had seemed to be content to believe the DFB to be completely above FIFA-style corruption, is quickly growing disenchanted with the country's football association. In a recent poll, a plurality of those asked said that they favored Silvia Neid, the German women's national team coach, as Niersbach's potential successor. It's hard to imagine a clearer call for an end to what increasing numbers of people see as an untenanble old boy's club.

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