RIO DE JANEIRO – One of the greatest soccer players of all time has been slammed with one of the most surprising soccer penalties of all time.
Franz Beckenbauer, beloved in Germany for being one of only two men in history to win a World Cup as a player and as a coach, was given a 90-day provisional ban by FIFA for refusing to cooperate in the investigation of the delegation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cup tournaments to Russia and Qatar, respectively.
Beckenbauer, a special adviser to FIFA, cannot participate in any football-related activities for three months – a penalty that extends well beyond the conclusion of the World Cup tournament here.
The decision is a jolt to the soccer community – a historic icon banned for intransigence – and it was levied by American prosecutor Michael Garcia, who is leading the investigation of the charges of corruption in handing out the 2018 and 2022 bids. Garcia is alleging a "breach" of FIFA's Code of Ethics.
"The apparent breach relates to Mr. Beckenbauer's failure to cooperate with an Ethics Committee investigation," read a FIFA statement released Friday, "despite repeated requests for his assistance, including requests that he provide information during an in-person interview or in response to written questions provided in both English and German."
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Beckenbauer has been under heavy criticism for several days, since the Sunday Times of London released emails indicating that secret payments may have helped Qatar win the 2022 World Cup bid.
Beckenbauer, 68, who has not commented since the ban was levied, said this week that he did not understand the questions sent to him as part of the investigation because they were in English. He requested an in-person meeting and a discussion in German, and "that was apparently not desired," he told The Guardian. He has denied that his vote was influenced, though he has not yet revealed which bid he voted for.
Media reports suggest Beckenbauer visited Qatar on multiple occasions, both before and after the emirate won its bid in 2010. There is also a report that he visited as part of a business delegation in 2011. He had a relationship with a German shipping company up until March of this year. He has a similar ambassadorial role for the Association of Russian Gas Producers.
FIFA has been under constant fire for its handling of the 2018 and particularly the 2022 World Cup bids. The decision to award the event to Qatar, despite its extreme summer temperatures and its history of workers' rights abuses, reportedly enraged even former president Bill Clinton, who led the United States' bid for the 2022 Cup.
Garcia's decision to ban Beckenbauer may mean progress toward finding the source of any corruption in these bids.
"I don't think Garcia will show any restraint when dealing with Beckenbauer," a FIFA source told the German newspaper Die Welt this week. "An American prosecutor won't care whether he is a German national icon."