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World Cup 2006

World Cup Commercialization Slurs Put FIFA on Defensive

Less than a week before the World Cup starts, Sepp Blatter, the head of soccer's world governing body FIFA, has had to fight off accusations that the tournament will be ruined by big business.

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The World Cup a victim of commercialization? Surely not!

Host nation Germany kick off the 64-match tournament against Costa Rica on Friday in the spectacular high-tech Munich stadium, starting the ball rolling on a month of action to decide the winners of a trophy which remains the pinnacle of achievement in the sport.

Yet days before the big kick-off, there have been complaints from the German organizers that the marketing of this tournament has reached unacceptable levels.

"With FIFA, you have to wonder whether they should be doing this," Theo Zwanziger, the German Soccer Federation's chief executive and the vice president of the German World Cup Organizing Committee (OK), told DW-TV. "The agreements FIFA makes, particularly in the marketing area ... were demanding for us and there have been disputes and confusion in many areas. And I think ... that FIFA will also consider whether this is wise in the long term."

A poll by the SID sports news agency showed that a third of Germans were growing "annoyed" by World Cup-related advertising and product tie-ins.

US brewing giant Anheuser-Busch paid 31 million euros ($40 million) to be one of the 2006 World Cup's 15 official sponsors, sparking outrage in Germany where all but one local beer will be banned from the stadiums in favor of Budweiser.

Franz Beckenbauer, the head of the World Cup organizing committee, called on Thursday for soccer to be "cleaned up" because he was afraid the sport was selling its soul to big business.

"We need to talk about the limits of money-making," he said.

FIFA chief defe n ds sharp rise i n spo n sor fees

Josef Blatter, Porträt, FIFA

FIFA boss Blatter denies selling out to big business

Blatter, the FIFA president who has seen the amount of money paid by the World Cup sponsors rise sharply in his eight years in charge, said the accusations were untrue.

"This is not about the commercialization of soccer," Blatter said in an interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

"What is important is a partnership between soccer, the economy and television which benefits all sides," he added.

But Blatter indicated that changes to the marketing of the World Cup would be made after the finals in Germany.

"We will aim for the optimum, not the maximum," the 70-year-old former Swiss lawyer said.

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