SPORTS LAW AT THE CROSSROADS

Time warp: Grindel steps down from DFB over earnings scandal and a Ukrainian watch

By Andrew Warshaw

April 3 – German Football Association president Reinhard Grindel, one of European football’s most influential figures who continually banged the drum for greater transparency and accountability, has himself been forced to resign after being embroiled in a domestic scandal.

Grindel, a television journalist turned politician who three years ago was tasked with restoring faith in the reputation of Germany’s battered football leadership, stepped down with immediate effect following revelations about undeclared earnings and the receipt of a luxury watch 18 months ago from former Ukrainian FA boss Grigoriy Surkis.

Grindel, a UEFA vice-president as well as one of Europe’s four FIFA Council representatives, was accused by German weekly magazine Der Spiegel last week of failing to declare additional income of €78,000 for being chairman of the federation’s subsidiary media management company in 2016 and 2017 – on top of his regular salary as DFB president. Then came revelations in another German paper about the watch.

“Everyone who knows me knows that I am not greedy,” said Grindel, ironically head of UEFA’s compliance committee, who took over as head of  the DFB from Wolfgang Niersbach, also forced to resign, in his case amid allegations of vote-rigging over  Germany’s 2006 World Cup bid.

Grindel oversaw a DFB-commissioned investigation in the affair but become increasingly unpopular as a result of a series of gaffes, not least the handling of Germany international Mesut Ozil’s controversial dealings with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan prior to last year’s World Cup. Ozil, who has Turkish roots, retired from the national team after Germany’s shock first round World Cup exit lambasting the DFB for its alleged “racism and disrespect”.

Earlier this year, Grindel took centre stage in helping Germany trounce their only opponent, Turkey, in a bid to host the 2024 Euros. In recent months he had become increasingly outspoken over the way FIFA was being run under the regime of Gianni Infantino.

Grindel claimed Infantino was fuelling international prejudice against FIFA over his plans to reshape the landscape of world football without proper consultation. Yet now he has fallen victim to his own misdeamenours.

“You can believe me that since the weekend I have been shattered by the mistakes committed,” said Grindel. “The fact that I am so publicly exposed to such an act makes me stunned and sad and I ask for a fair assessment of my unfortunately only three-year term.”

Technically, Grindel, whose tenure as DFB president was the shortest in its 114-year history, can still retain his UEFA executive committee membership until his term ends but the position, along with his FIFA Council role, seems bound to become increasingly untenable.

He insists there was no collusion of any description or any conflict of interest in his dealings with Surkis, who was also at one stage a top-ranking UEFA official. “He had no financial interests in the DFB. He had never asked me for any kind of support before, nor did he ask for any after,” Grindel argued. “It was clear at the time that he would not run again for UEFA’s Exco, to which he no longer belongs.”

“For me, this (watch) was nothing more than a private gift, with no connection to the Ukrainian association or a commercial company. Accepting the watch was simple act of courtesy from me. I was open about having received this gift. I did not know the brand, nor did I have any idea of its value. It was a big failure on my part to not determine the value of the watch immediately. This way I could have avoided any implications of such unspeakable behaviour.”

“I would like to emphasise once again, that I have no explanation as to why I did not ensure clarity with regard to the situation. You can believe me when I say that I’ve been in complete disbelief about my mistake since the weekend.

“To conclude: I am devastated that I have to give up my role as DFB president because of such an incident, a role I took pleasure in, especially to provide more support for amateur football in Germany.”

DFB Vice presidents Dr. Rainer Koch and Dr. Reinhard Rauball are to head the German FA on an interim basis until September – for the second time having briefly done the same after Niersbach stepped down in November 2015.

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