BERLIN, February 2nd – Ex-FIFA official Theo Zwanziger, who described Qatar last year as “a cancer” on world football, was told in court on Tuesday that his comments were covered by freedom of speech.
The 70-year-old trained lawyer appeared in Duesseldorf’s regional court after the Qatar Football Association (QFA) filed a civil lawsuit for damages over his comments concerning the Arab state’s hosting of the 2022 World Cup.
The QFA sued after Zwanziger told public broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk last year that Qatar “was a cancerous growth on world football”.
The Qataris wanted to prevent any repetition from Zwanziger, who was elected to FIFA’s executive committee from 2011-2015, and was German FA (DFB) president from 2006 until 2012, but the court ruled his comment was covered by freedom of speech.
“We consider the statement, ‘Qatar is a cancerous growth on football’, to be justifiable, in terms of freedom of expression,” said the judge.
A final ruling will only be announced on April 19 and, according to sources of SID, an AFP subsidiary, the Qataris’ lawyer will appeal if, as expected, there is a decision in Zwanziger’s favour.
The case highlights the sensitivity surrounding the decision in December 2010 by world football’s governing body FIFA to award the tiny Arab state the right to stage a World Cup finals.
Switzerland’s prosecutor is investigating both FIFA’s decision to award the 2018 World Cup finals to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar amidst accusations of bribery and corruption.
Zwanziger was in court to argue his case and went on the offensive by bringing a lawsuit against German broadcaster ARD.
He claims to have been damaged by an allegedly false statement of fact in a broadcast about the FIFA scandal around Germany’s awarding of the 2006 World Cup.
Zwanziger has insisted there will be a “sequel” to the report and told ARD, “you have raised suspicions about a fact, which must now be judged.”
But ARD’s head of sport Axel Balkausky told SID they are confident in the facts they presented.
Frankfurt authorities are currently investigating Zwanziger and two other former DFB officials for suspected tax fraud over an irregular 6.7-million-euro ($7.3-million) payment to FIFA relating to the 2006 finals.