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Thursday, May 26, 2022

DFB president Bernd Neuendorf now has a lot to clean up: sport

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Confused, Rainer Koch persevered to the bitter end, in the front row of the plenary, his eyes fixed on the stage, the outgoing treasurer Stephan Osnabrügge as a comforter at his side. He then disappeared without a word through a side exit of the Bonn Congress Center. The 63-year-old senior official could not believe what had happened: he, the eternal marksman of the German Football Association, was no longer elected vice president of the DFB Bundestag on Friday. They had taken it out of the headquarters, in a high arch. It was the result of one last feint gone awry, and a strange appearance that finally released all the reserves building against him within the association.

After a veritable series of affairs involving Koch in recent months, there was a last-minute opponent at Friday’s football convention: Silke Sinning, a professor at the University of Koblenz-Landau. Curious: the sports scientist had been suggested by the association of Bayern de Koch itself. This should send the message to the base and the unbelieving public that Koch’s supporter columns in soccer’s mighty south would not stand in the way of secret, democratic elections.

But castling turned out to be a big mistake. Koch himself made it clear when he seriously explained to the plenary that he was the one that the southern German associations had proposed for this function of deputy and that an election meant that “one stuck to the agreements”. His oblique appeal to him: one can either “confirm” him as vice-president of the DFB or “not participate in the election”. That was too much even for the delegates. Grumpy protests erupted in the room, shortly after Koch’s heavy loss (68:163) was complete.

New DFB President: Sports scientist Silke Sinning ended Rainer Koch's time in the DFB Presidium with her candidacy.

Rainer Koch’s time in the DFB presidium ended with his candidacy: sports scientist Silke Sinning.

(Photo: Simon Hofmann/Getty Images for DFB)

Rarely has an official brought to the fore the lack of understanding of democracy in sports politics as openly as Rainer Koch has done now. But what happened around his appearance shows that Koch is not alone in mastering the dubious art of impersonating elections. He was supported to the last, also by an official who had been one of his closest allies for many years and was consequently allowed to inherit him from the Bundestag: Baden football boss Ronny Zimmermann. He is the new amateur boss, one of the two top vice presidents of the DFB, and would be – Koch has lived through the scenario three times – even interim boss should the new president Bernd Neuendorf resign prematurely. In short, he is now one of the most powerful officials in football.

Silke Sinning was suggested “to refute accusations of undemocratic behaviour”, but not to vote for her.

On the eve of the elections, the main fan representatives received a letter signed by Zimmermann and three other presidents of state associations in southern Germany (available for SZ). What Koch demanded then was made clear: Sinning, the paper says, was only suggested “to refute accusations of undemocratic behavior.” But: The board of directors of the southern German associations unanimously proposed Koch, who was supported by all these state associations. Therefore, the undersigned now asks all delegates of the German Football League (DFL) and the other regional and state associations “to mutually respect the proposals of our candidates in the interest of good cooperation.”

In other words: we intend to be a small democracy, for the skeptical public. But at the polls, everyone strictly adheres to the agreement that was resolved in a small circle! Whoever has such an understanding of democracy does not need elections.

The process shows how much cleanup work, but also how much rethinking is needed in the new Executive Committee. The new president Neuendorf must show that he represents an unfettered new start. Virtually all top positions in German football are filled: In addition to him and Zimmermann, there are the treasurer Stephan Grunwald and the two DFL representatives Hans-Joachim Watzke and Donata Hopfen. But how many new beginnings this quintet brings and how intensely it pursues the illustration of the matter, which Koch’s conqueror Sinning has warned about, that must be shown. The first acid test is who will represent German football in the main international bodies.

In FIFA and UEFA, officials now represent the DFB who no longer belong to the association presidency.

These posts, each endowed with around 200,000 euros a year, are now filled by two officials who no longer sit in the DFB presidium: Koch as a board member in the European football union Uefa, the unsuccessful challenger from Neuendorf Peter Peters on the council of the World Association FIFA. Until now they have not had good positions there. What should he do there now without a DFB presidency mandate?

In addition, the UEFA publication now has a special meaning, also from the point of view of the European Association. Because the next EM 2024 will take place in Germany. At UEFA’s headquarters in Nyon, some would prefer the DFB to send a truly representative new figure to the board, preferably the president himself. Koch was formally personally elected, but the DFB cannot simply change his appointment. But actually yes: If the new management of the association wants a change, regional president Koch from Bavaria could hardly refuse, not without starting the next scandal.

In this regard, the question now is: Is Neuendorf loyal to the DFB and his future EM 2024, or to Koch, who certainly played a part in his election? Immediately after the Bundestag, the new president did not want to commit, but at the press conference it was noted that he did not give a firm job offer. Neuendorf said he wanted to talk to Koch first: “I don’t think now is the right time to talk about who has what prospects in the DFB.” The rest was the language of footballers: “We will analyze the game carefully and draw conclusions.” However, the opinion now also rests with the league representative Watzke: he should have a say in UEFA and EM matters, for professional interests.

The new DFB leadership must make a quick decision. Only the Congress can elect new members to the UEFA board. The next one is May 11 in Vienna.

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