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Fritz Keller steps down as DFB president

Deutscher Fußball-Bund (DFB) President Fritz Keller. (© Thomas Böcker/DFB)
Deutscher Fußball-Bund (DFB) President Fritz Keller. (© Thomas Böcker/DFB)

On Monday, 17 May 2021, Fritz Keller stepped down from his role as president of the German FA (DFB).

His personal statement:

As already announced, I am stepping down as president in order for a profound and necessary new beginning at the DFB to take place. I take personal responsibility for my derailment at the presidential board meeting on 23 April 2021, which should remain an absolute low point for the dire DFB leadership situation.

At the end of September 2019, I was unanimously voted in as president at the DFB Bundestag. My programme was based on trust, transparency, information and the implementation of collective leadership in the team. My aim was to end the ‘one-man-show’ management style within the DFB and to re-establish unity between professional football, amateur football and youth football.

The DFB has to change. It needs to regain its credibility and regain confidence in its integrity and performance. But whether it was the implementation of a general inventory, the professionalisation and modernisation of structures including the fastest possible outsourcing of the commercial operations of the DFB: In every implementation phase regarding these principles, I encountered resistance and obstacles within the DFB.

I took on the role as president because the DFB was already in need of redevelopment in autumn 2019 with countless unresolved issues and unfinished projects. The DFB suffered from the long-term consequences of the ‘summer fairy’ tale with criminal proceedings and damaged reputation, which endangered the unity of professional and amateur football. The DFB’s management style had worn out four presidents in the space of just a few years. During my time in office, football also suffered serious consequences from the coronavirus crisis, which affected and still affect the thousands of clubs with active players and youngsters most severely.

In this situation, I was not able to achieve trusting, reliable and collegial cooperation within the DFB committees. After the second tax raid, the origins of which I carry no responsibility for, it became clear to me that it was all-too often about personal sensibilities, internal power struggles, protection of personal interests and “working on” the public image.

In many areas, it was repeatedly made difficult, sometimes impossible, for me to implement my programme and carry out my mandate by the DFB Bundestag. I had to fight legally as president when it came to implementing transparency, for example, and for the right to information disclosure, despite the matters concerning the DFB, both ideologically and financially.

Only after I involved independent supervisory bodies to establish legal certainty were the allegations raised against me be completely cleared. Unfortunately, this sometimes put the supervisory authorities themselves under pressure: They were threatened with extrajudicial claims for damages, and requests for bias raised doubts about their independence.

All of this was and still is a long way off proper association management – especially with regard to the conclusion and implementation of an inconclusive contract with a communications agency.

In this regard, I can only subscribe to the unmistakable, clear words and documented findings of our high-ranking examination board and the ethics committees.

My misconduct occurred in a situation that was shameful for the DFB, but my resignation will not solve the problems within the DFB and football. I am grateful that I have found an independent committee that values confidentiality in the sports court of the DFB, in which these circumstances were presented and checked in context. The DFB needs more committees like this, ones that are able to work confidentially.

The fact that a broad discussion about necessary changes in the DFB has begun in recent days gives me hope. I have therefore also insisted that changes become and remain an important and necessary part of the DFB’s short-term agenda. These involve:

• a personnel renewal at the head of the DFB, without which a credible new start is not possible; the DFB must maintain its independence with regard to persons who are defendants in various prosecutorial investigations – the presumption of innocence of those involved would not be affected by this;

• complete professionalisation at management level and rapid introduction of completely new structures so that the DFB can profit from amateur football and the entire youth sector as well as the fulfilment of social missions within the sport of football;

• finally providing backing and support for the dedicated and capable employees within the DFB and the strengthening of a leadership style based on trust and reliability, especially including diversity considerations;

• the urgent support of the amateur and youth sector, which has been damaged by the coronavirus, by the DFB as well as by the entire football family in Germany. The DFB must dedicate itself to the amateur and youth sector with all its strength, energy and all of its idealistic and financial possibilities in order to perform its most important social task.

The DFB staff members work with great passion, commitment and expertise for the sport of football. I was saddened and impacted by the fact that these people were drawn into the conflict within the leadership of the DFB and, in some cases, were even exploited. This is completely incompatible with my values as an entrepreneur. As a result, uncertainty and even concern have recently spread to the core of the DFB, which is nothing other than a disaster for an association whose leadership has included me for the past 18 months. It is of greatest importance to me to express my sincere thanks to the employees and wish them all the best for their personal and professional future, and in particular a safe professional environment based on respect and team spirit!

It has been an honour to serve football to the best of my ability.