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German soccer president resigns after comparing deputy to Nazi-era judge

Lamenting ‘sad low point,’ Fritz Keller steps down after likening organization’s vice president to Roland Freisler, head of the Third Reich’s People’s Court

President of German Football Association Fritz Keller prior to the German soccer cup (DFB Pokal) final match between RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund in Berlin, Germany, May 13, 2021. (Maja Hitij/Pool via AP)
President of German Football Association Fritz Keller prior to the German soccer cup (DFB Pokal) final match between RB Leipzig and Borussia Dortmund in Berlin, Germany, May 13, 2021. (Maja Hitij/Pool via AP)

FRANKFURT, Germany — German soccer federation president Fritz Keller resigned Monday, nearly a month after he compared one of the organization’s vice presidents to a Nazi-era judge.

Keller likened Rainer Koch to Nazi-era judge Roland Freisler at a federation meeting on April 23. That prompted state and regional officials to express a vote of no confidence in Keller’s leadership. Keller offered an apology which he said Koch did not accept.

Keller said that “with this, I accept personal responsibility for my lapse at the board meeting of April 23, which should remain a sad low point in the wretched leadership situation” at the federation, known by its German initials DFB. He stepped down ahead of an expected ruling by an ethics panel.

Freisler, as a participant in the Wannsee Conference of 1942, was one of the Nazis responsible for the organization of the Holocaust. He became president of the People’s Court, where he issued around 2,600 death sentences to opponents of the Nazi regime.

Roland Freisler (C) presiding over the German People’s Court, July 20, 1944. (Bundesarchiv, Bild 151-39-23/Wikipedia CC-BY-SA 3.0)

The DFB said last week when Keller first indicated he would step down that Koch, who is a judge at a court in Munich, and another vice president, Peter Peters, will be joint interim presidents for a transitional period.

In a lengthy statement announcing his resignation Monday, Keller said the DFB was plagued by internal power struggles and a lack of transparency. “My resignation will not solve the problems within the DFB and the sport of soccer,” he said.

The 64-year-old Keller, who had been in office since 2019, is the latest of four recent DFB presidents to leave office amid scandal.

Keller’s predecessor, Reinhard Grindel, resigned after accepting a luxury watch amid allegations of undeclared earnings and discontent with his leadership. Former federation presidents Wolfgang Niersbach and Theo Zwanziger were both forced out amid allegations of corruption concerning Germany’s 2006 World Cup bid.

Germany is due to host the European Championship in 2024.

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