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Switzerland

Soccer Scandals: Locals Want Zurich To Give FIFA The Boot

A pair of city councilors is urging Zurich to cut its decades-old ties with FIFA, soccer’s worldwide governing association. Not only do they say scandals have made FIFA bad for the city’s image, it’s also a waste of money.

The FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland
The FIFA headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland
Peter Aeschlimann

ZURICH -- The view of Zurich from up here is magnificent. The blue and white FIFA flag -- "For the game, for the world" -- flutters over this little corner of verdant paradise known as Sonnenberg. Right now, the soccer field is empty, the wurst stand closed, so all you hear aside from the faint hum of traffic in the city below is the clatter of pots and pans in star chef Jacky Donatz's eatery. That, and the sonorous voice of sports reporter Walter de Gregorio talking on his cell phone.

De Gregorio is standing in the parking lot between a Maserati and a Smart car, smoking. His stint as consultant to FIFA President Sepp Blatter ends at the end of September. His job is to give Blatter input about how the soccer association could communicate better. "There has to be a systematic clean-up," de Gregorio is saying into the phone. "Zero tolerance!"

Wherever that's going, it comes too late for Jacqueline Badran and Balthasar Glättli. As far as the local Socialist and Green Party politicians are concerned, they're through with FIFA. The duo has presented a motion to Zurich's city council that would require FIFA to clear out. "FIFA under Blatter is not an institution that deserves to get preferential treatment from this city," says Glättli. And Badran adds: "FIFA damages Zurich's image."

The not-for-profit organization has been headquartered in Zurich since 1927. In 1996, FIFA leased the Sonnenberg site from the city for 60 years with a right to build. Later, however, it moved its offices into larger premises. Since 2006, it has been using the Sonnenberg property as a convention center and pays the city 200,000 Swiss francs (about 250,000 dollars) in interest a year. Badran thinks this is far too little; in a location like that, you could easily ask for four times as much. And over the length of the contract, it means a loss of 30 million francs (37 million dollars) income for the city.

"It's just not acceptable for the city to be subsidizing FIFA. It may be a not-for-profit, but it's one that earns billions and benefits from significant tax relief," says Badran who grew up on the Sonnenberg and learned to read here, with the help of her sister, sitting under an apple tree. Badran stresses that her concern is not a campaign against Sepp Blatter but a fight for what's just and right.

"Now nobody's happy"

Fifteen years ago, it all looked very different. The hotel that had been on Sonnenberg for 100 years and the Sonnenberg restaurant were in severe need of restoration.The city of Zurich didn't have the 13 million francs (roughly 16 million dollars) it would have taken to undertake the project. With the approval of 70% of voters, FIFA came to the rescue. But the situation changed by the mid-90s, Glättli says. Glättli calls this a perfect example of the way politics should not be conducted. "Because they needed money, they were looking for a quick fix. Now nobody's happy, and that could stay the case for several more decades."

The reason for the dissatisfaction about the present situation among "regular folks," says Glättli, is that while the food in the Sonnenberg restaurant is great, it's not affordable for most people. And yet that was one of the stipulations in the 1996 building contract: the renovated Sonnenberg restaurant had to be within the means of the many. One glance at Jacky Donatz's menu is enough to know it's not. Starters like Sonnenberg lobster salad cost 56 francs (69 dollars). The goose liver tartlets with blackcurrant jelly sell for 39 francs (48 dollars). A small veal cutlet at Jacky's runs 62 francs (77 dollars), a larger one 89 francs (110 dollars). The lowest-priced thing available is a 26-franc (32-dollar) bratwurst with potato rösti.

Under pressure from the city, Donatz did opened a "Wurscht-Corner" in the spring of 2007, where a bratwurst, roll and mustard cost only 6.50 francs (8 dollars) – but for Glättli this "bratwurst compromise" doesn't even begin to cut the mustard.

So the motion that he and Badran have put before the city council recommends an investigation into how the contract with FIFA could be dissolved, and how the Sonnenberg could be put to less exclusive use. Either that, or the city needs to find a way to earn better money from it. Glättli himself is thinking in terms of making it the headquarters for the local chapter of an organization like the WWF, or an organization that works to further social causes. Badran says she has no problem with the idea of a business occupying the office space; it would at least be lucrative, she says, whereas the present arrangement with FIFA is "garbage."

FIFA presently pays 1.7 million francs (2.1 million dollars) in taxes on a billion francs (1.2 billion dollars) worth of equity. The organization's profits are not taxed. According to canton of Zurich tax authorities, if FIFA were a business it would have paid 57 million francs (71 million dollars) worth of taxes last year.

"It's galling that we have to try to save money by cutting food budgets at old peoples' homes while we're subsidizing FIFA," says Badran. Adds Glättli: "We're throwing money at FIFA, which is a global concern completely lacking in transparency."

Read the original story in German

Photo - Ed Coyle Photography

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