The former head of German football is free to describe Qatar as a “cancerous growth of world football,” a German court said yesterday in a preliminary ruling.
Theo Zwanziger, who was president of the German soccer federation DFB until 2012, is being sued by the Qatar Football Association (QFA) after he made the comments during a radio interview with German public broadcaster Hessische Rundfunk (HR) last June.
Following a hearing in Düsseldorf regional court yesterday (Feb. 2), a judge said in a preliminary decision that Zwanziger was within his right to free speech, and rejected the civil lawsuit filed by the QFA.
But the judge said he wanted more time to study opposing arguments before making a final ruling on April 19, the AP reported.
In the interview, Zwanziger was asked whether the decision to let Qatar host the 2022 World Cup should be reviewed following allegations of corruption in FIFA.
He replied that a review was “possible and necessary,” adding:
“I have always said that Qatar was a cancerous growth on world football. It all started with that decision,” according to media reports of court documents.
The QFA said his statement amounted to “unacceptable slander and vilification” of Qatar and its citizens. It is seeking 100,000 Euros (nearly QR400,000) in damages and a court order for Zwanziger not to make such comments in future.
In a statement issued after he made the comments, the Qatar embassy in Germany added:
“Qatar is open to objective criticism and controversial discussions – even if criticism is not justified. Freedom of expression is allowed but that does not include the right to defame and insult by using a term like ‘cancerous growth.’”
Zwanziger said he was just trying to criticize the FIFA process that awarded the 2022 World Cup to the gas-rich country.
“I never for a second wanted to insult anyone from Qatar,” Zwanziger told the court, according to AP.
Zwanziger has been openly and repeatedly critical of Qatar hosting the tournament.