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German soccer chief Keller likens colleague to infamous Nazi

BERLIN (AP) – German soccer federation president Fritz Keller says he will not step down from his role after comparing one of his vice presidents to infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler.

Keller said Tuesday he made a “serious mistake” after making the remark about Rainer Koch at a federation meeting on Friday, but he stopped short of apologizing again.

“I assumed that the apology I made to him in writing and on the telephone would be accepted immediately. This assumption was wrong, based on his written answer to me yesterday,” Keller said in a statement on the federation’s website.

Despite widespread criticism from others across German sport, including from within the federation itself, Keller told news agency dpa, “I rule out resigning.”

Koch, who has yet to accept Keller’s apology, also works as a judge at the higher regional court in Munich.

The South German soccer federation called Keller’s remark “completely unacceptable,” a reaction shared by the German soccer league, which represents the country’s 36 professional teams, and others.

“Regardless of the fact that I don’t know the context in which the undisputed remark of the DFB (federation) president was made, comparisons with one of the most terrible judges of the Nazi era are inexcusable,” said Dagmar Freitag, who heads the German Bundestag’s sports committee.

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.

Keller was appointed head of the German soccer federation in September 2019. The former Freiburg president was seen as the best candidate to help it emerge from years of scandal. “The only way to further develop German football from the bottom to the top is together, as a team,” Keller said at the time.

Keller’s predecessor, Reinhard Grindel, resigned after accepting a luxury watch amid allegations of undeclared earnings and general 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.

Keller’s leadership has been marked lately by infighting at the federation. The 64-year-old has been involved in a power struggle with general secretary Friedrich Curtius.

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