Vol. 5 Num 717 Sun. June 04, 2006  

FIFA World Cup
Germany 2006

FIFA denies commercialisation

One week before the World Cup starts, the head of football's world governing body Sepp Blatter on Friday fought off accusations that the tournament will be ruined by big business.

Hosts Germany kick off the 64-match tournament against Costa Rica next Friday in the spectacular high-tech Munich stadium, starting the ball rolling on a month of action to decide the winners of a trophy which remains the pinnacle of footballing achievement.

Yet days before the big kick-off, there have been complaints from the German organisers that the marketing of this tournament has reached unacceptable levels.

A poll by the SID sports news agency showed that a third of Germans were growing "annoyed" at World Cup-related advertising and product tie-ins.

US brewing giant Anheuser-Busch paid 40 million dollars (31 million euros) to be one of the 2006 World Cup's 15 official sponsors, sparking outrage in Germany where all but one local beer will be banned from the stadiums in favour of Budweiser.

Franz Beckenbauer, the head of the World Cup organising committee, called on Thursday for football to be "cleaned up" because he was afraid the sport was selling its soul to big business.

"We need to talk about the limits of money-making," he said.

Blatter, the FIFA president who has seen the amount of money paid by the World Cup sponsors rise sharply in his eight years in charge, said the accusations were untrue.

"This is not about the commercialisation of football," Blatter said in an interview with the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

"What is important is a partnership between football, the economy and television which benefits all sides."

But he indicated that changes to the marketing of the World Cup would be made after the finals in Germany.

"We will aim for the optimum, not the maximum," the 70-year-old former Swiss lawyer said.

There was an early test for the tournament's security arrangements when the US team flew into the northern port city of Hamburg to take up their heavily-guarded headquarters in a central hotel.

Security will be tight around coach Bruce Arena's squad due to the risk of attacks from Islamic extremists, although the German government has said it has no information of specific threats.