DUESSELDORF, Germany (AP) — The former president of the German soccer federation can continue to refer to Qatar as a "cancerous growth of world football" — at least until a final ruling by a German court.
A Duesseldorf court ruled Tuesday that Theo Zwanziger was within his right to free speech. But the judge said he wanted more time to study opposing arguments before making a final ruling on April 19.
The Qatar Football Association filed a civil lawsuit against Zwanziger after he made the statement in a radio interview in June, calling the description "unacceptable slander and vilification" of Qatar and its citizens.
Zwanziger has argued he never intended to insult the people of Qatar but wanted to criticize the FIFA process which awarded the 2022 World Cup to the gas-rich country.
"I never for a second wanted to insult anyone from Qatar," Zwanziger told the court.
The QFA is seeking 100,000 euros ($109,000) in damages and a court order for Zwanziger not to make such comments in future.
In the interview, Zwanziger told a German radio station: "I have always said that Qatar was a cancerous growth of world football. It all started with that decision" — the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
The QFA's German lawyer Peter Gauweiler said Zwanziger, who had also been a high-ranking FIFA official, was trying to cover up his own "traces" in the awarding of the 2006 World Cup to Germany,
Zwanziger angrily denied that, saying he had been striving for FIFA to reform for years.
Last year, Zwanziger shook up the German federation by saying that Germany bought votes to win the bid for the 2006 tournament.
Zwanziger's successor as federation president, Wolfgang Niersbach, resigned and the federation is under investigation.
Zwanziger himself is the target of a criminal probe by Frankfurt prosecutors over dubious payments to FIFA before and after the tournament.
Swiss prosecutors have launched investigations into the awarding of the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar.