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'Tarnished' DFB set for presidential election

March 9, 2022

On Friday, the German Football Association will elect the new president of the world's largest sports association. The need for reform is huge and repairing a badly damaged image is the first priority.

Schmierereien an DFB-Zentrale
Image: Sebastian Gollnow/dpa/picture alliance

The German Football Association (DFB) has a "really tarnished image." That’s the assessment Harald Lange gave DW ahead of Friday’s presidential election.

The sports scientist took part in a study by the University of Würzburg and the Ansbach University of Applied Sciences, which evaluated an online survey of almost 12,000 participants regarding the state of the DFB. The survey was conducted before the raids on the organization's offices for tax reasons in 2020.

About 91% of the respondents described the image of the world's largest single sports association as ‘bad’ or ‘very bad, while 93% felt that DFB officials are only concerned with power and money. And 78% do not believe that the upcoming election will solve the problems.

Bernd Neuendorf or Peter Peters?

The new election is necessary in light of DFB President Fritz Keller resigning in May 2021 after he compared vice-president Rainer Koch to Nazi judge Roland Freisler, who was responsible for thousands of unjust sentences. 

Months of quarrelling within the DFB leadership had preceded Keller's gaffe. Koch stepped in as interim president, but the controversial official did not run for the post as the figurehead for more than 7.1 million members.

Now 262 delegates will decide at the DFB’s Bundestag (Parliament) in Bonn who will lead as president until 2025: Bernd Neuendorf or Peter Peters. Neuendorf is the president of the DFB-Verband Mittelrhein, an assocation that oversees football in a region that straddles the Rhine River between Cologne and Bonn.

Bernd Neuendorf and Peter Peters
Bernd Neuendorf (l.) and Peter Peters (r.) are vying for the DFB presidency in the upcoming electionsImage: Marius Becker/picture alliance/dpa // Frank Rumpenhorst/picture alliance/dpa

Peters, meanwhile, has been a DFB vice-president since 2019. The 59-year-old was most recently responsible for the finances of Schalke for six years as a board member, having been a managing director of the Ruhr club since 1993. 

The 21 German state associations have the majority of votes in the DFB's Bundestag and most have already committed themselves to Neuendorf in advance. As a result, Peters only has an outside chance at being elected. 

"Looking at their campaigns, we can say that both candidates failed," says sports scientist Lange. In the survey, just 11% thought Neuendorf was capable of holding the highest post in German football, and for Peters it was not much more ,at just over 13%.

Women under represented at the top

"The fan base want more, and different, candidates," says Lange, referring to the study. For example, more women: "In all areas of football, there are extremely competent women who are very successful in their fields of expertize."

The change in approach has long been in effect at the grassroots level, Lange said, but not among the DFB's leaders. "It is only at the top of the DFB that women appear too rarely or not at all. You can't just leave half of society out when it comes to leadership roles."

"The DFB is holding on to existing power structures by all means," says Katja Kraus of the women's initiative Fussball kann mehr (Football Can Do More) in an interview with DW: "There was no willingness to be open to a democratic process, to welcoming female candidates, male candidates and teams with different approaches and saying: in the end, whoever wants the best for football wins." 

Due to the near-impossibility of success, the initiative opted not to enter a female candidate. "We’re not compulsive gamblers," says Kraus. "Who would put themselves forward for a competition, the outcome of which is predetermined?"

Since Donata Hopfen became the new managing director of the German Football League Association (DFL) at the beginning of the year, there have been two women on the 17-member DFB board. Before that, Hannelore Ratzeburg, responsible for gender equality and women's and girls' football, was a lone voice. Neuenburg and Peters both made their desire to appoint more women to the DFB's highest body a feature of their respective campaigns.

'Leadership virtually in a bubble'

Whoever wins the race for the DFB top post faces a daunting task. Kraus thinks German football is in a deep "credibility crisis." In the past few years, those responsible at the DFB had "tainted the reputation of football," and now the DFB need to win back the trust of the people. However, this cannot be achieved by "cosmetically remodelling what already exists," said Kraus.

Lange also sees a glaring need for reform. Contact with the grassroots level has been lost in recent years. "The DFB leadership has lived and worked in a bubble, so to speak, where everything revolves around itself," says the sports scientist. "You finally have to start making the DFB more permeable: for opinions, for stimulus, for people who come from the grassroots and want to take responsibility."

This article was translated from German