German FA hires PR firm to address ongoing controversies
The German football federation (DFB) has hired the crisis PR agency representing scandal-ridden Volkswagen amid claims of racism, calls for its restructuring and a lack of analysis following Germany's group-stage exit from the World Cup.
The organisation has been criticised for its mishandling of the political situation surrounding a photo taken of Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan with Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in May, leading to Ozil's decision last month to retire from international competition.
An early exit from the World Cup, which Germany entered as defending champions, and the demand by Christian Seifert, the CEO of the German football league (DFL), for greater oversight of the DFB led to the organisation hiring Hering Schuppener for public representation.
"An external look over the shoulder is part of handling those issues," a DFB spokesperson told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, adding that the mandate for the PR company's services was "limited in duration" and "economically manageable."
DFB president Reinhard Grindel, a former Bundestag backbencher for the governing Christian Democratic Union, was appointed to the role in April 2016 after Wolfgang Niersbach was banned by FIFA for one year for his role in misconduct surrounding the committee's bid to host the 2006 World Cup.
But Grindel has come under fire in recent months for his leadership, with the mishandling of the situation regarding Ozil and his heritage contributing to the criticism. Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge again questioned Grindel's ability to lead the federation because of his non-football background, in an interview with Sport Bild earlier this week.
And on Wednesday, Grindel was backed by Seifert, who nevertheless called for a reform of the DFB at an event in Frankfurt.
Seifert said he never expected the DFB to handle the Ozil situation without mistakes, citing Germany's national struggle over the treatment of refugees and the overlying issue of the effect of migration on Europe's biggest economy.
But he asked for a new "DFB structure which, at long last, clearly distinguishes between professional management and a board consisting of representatives from amateur and professional clubs that only acts in a supervising role."
Volkswagen, which owns Wolfsburg and, through its Audi brand, is one of Bayern's primary sponsors, hired Hering Schuppener in 2015 to coordinate a response to findings the company installed software in its vehicles to avoid worldwide emissions controls.
Although Ozil's performance has been frequently singled out as one of the reasons why Germany failed to advance beyond the group stage at the World Cup, teammate Julian Brandt defended the midfielder against claims he was responsible for the exit.
"It's just wrong to just hit out at him," Brandt told reporters after a Bayer Leverkusen training session. "He might have made a few mistakes from a sporting point of view, or maybe he did not access his full potential, but we are all at fault."
Brandt denied that the photo taken with Erdogan was an issue among players, but support has otherwise been rare. Jerome Boateng, Julian Draxler and Antonio Rudiger have thanked the midfielder for their time together at the World Cup, but players such as captain Manuel Neuer or team leaders Mats Hummels, Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira have yet to address his decision to walk away from the national team.
Coach Joachim Low also has yet to comment on Ozil's departure.