Sandrock: "Football is a game - and we should keep it this way"
Known to be a man of his word who advocates clear-cut instructions, pragmatism, and transparency, former Germany youth player Helmut Sandrock (55) is the new General Secretary of one of the world's biggest single sports associations. 30 days in office don't seem such a long time, but he's no stranger to football. On the contrary. Speaking to DFB.de senior writer Thomas Hackbarth, he talks about "the story so far", tackling the tasks lying ahead, liaising with DFB President Wolfgang Niersbach, and keeping the game clean.
DFB.de: Physically speaking, you haven't moved into the General Secretary's office yet, but that hasn't kept you from hitting the ground running…
Sandrock: Yes, you're right; I've been going into and out of meetings with just about everybody at the DFB. It's a very busy period with lots of what I would call "transition talks", handing over and receiving responsibilities, discussing the way ahead with my predecessor Wolfgang Niersbach, as well as with Deputy General Secretary Stefan Hans, the various directors and heads of department, not to forget our EURO 2012 Task Force. At the same time, I am still wearing my director's hat (DFB.de: before his appointment to GS, Sandrock was Director for Match Operations, Coach Education, Talent Promotion, Youth & Grassroots Football) and we're preparing the internal re-structuring of the DFB as an organisation, so there are many staffing and human resources issues to be resolved.
DFB.de: Professionally - or maybe even privately - speaking, what's your preferred approach: wait-and-see or go-for-it?
Sandrock: The latter, definitely, and I do think it shows on my C.V.! You've got to be prepared to take the plunge when the time is right. I like change. And if you're that kind of person, you need team-mates with the same outlook. Fortunately for me, there's a fantastic team here at the DFB.
DFB.de: Do you think that to become a good General Secretary, you'll have to change as a person?
Sandrock: Not at all, and I firmly believe in remaining true to oneself, whatever your job, office, or function. Having said that, I've already noted people somehow looking at me differently, just because I've been given new responsibilities. But I've always believed in respect and decency when dealing with colleagues, and I'll never ever change that. In fact, the personnel manager in me is going to stick to his guiding principle that "soft skills are the new hard skills."
DFB.de: You and newly-elected DFB President Wolfgang Niersbach…
Sandrock: … should make for a strong leadership duo (laughs). Seriously, we share many of the same beliefs, especially that of cultivating teamwork to run this association. For this to work out, you need an atmosphere of mutual trust, honesty, and transparency, ideally you should also like one another, take decisions together and be prepared to weather a storm if things don't work out at once. Wolfgang Niersbach and I got to know each other well while working for the 2006 World Cup LOC, and if there ever was any friction, we openly talked about it. Plus both of us love the game, with his heart beating for Fortuna Düsseldorf, mine for MSV Duisburg.
DFB.de: You were appointed Tournament Director in 2003 – did you ever feel overawed by the occasion?
Sandrock: To be honest, it was only at the qualifying draw event in Frankfurt in December 2003 that the sheer magnitude of the event began to dawn on me, in midst the buzz and expectation created by some 200 nations keen to be part of the tournament. World Cup fever indeed! To cut a long story short – everybody at the LOC did a great job and, to a degree, we just got lucky… just think of that brilliant summer weather in 2006.
DFB.de: Talking about tournaments, there's a European Championship only ten weeks away. Is the EURO 2012 countdown a key issue for you, too?
Sandrock: Yes and No. As far as preparations are concerned, our task force has actually made great headway before I got involved. We're now adding the finishing touches to many of the areas that concern the team in a non-sporting way, such as media, hospitality, security, ticketing, commercial partners' involvement etc.
DFB.de: In how far will the DFB's commitment to the environment, the integration of foreigners, gay rights, and cultural activities be part of your agenda?
Sandrock: The DFB is a major social player and with 6.8 million members affiliated to some 26,000 clubs, you can say we're pretty much a cross-section of German society, so it's only logical that over and above the actual football, we will continue to take a stand on the issues you have mentioned. We have been doing this for many years now, just look at the fantastic work done at home and abroad by the DFB's foundations specifically established for that purpose. The DFB's Sustainability Committee is now going to co-ordinate all these activities. However, our "core business" remains promoting and organising football.
DFB.de: Is there anything that's putting the health of football at risk?
Sandrock: The game must remain clean, and we mustn't lower our guard to attempts at match fixing. There's a huge gambling scene on the Internet, especially in the sports betting market, with all the hazards that go with that. It's a very real threat that the DFB has to tackle head-on. Even the slightest impropriety will jeopardise the integrity of our competitions, and even a single case would be one too many.
DFB.de: What has already been done to counter match fixing?
Sandrock: First of all, in legal terms sports fraud is now a punishable offence. And as prevention is key, we're having the world-wide sports betting market monitored for suspicious bets on all of our national teams' fixtures, as well as on all matches of the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, the German FA Cup, the German U-19 Bundesliga, right down to the competitions organised by the sub-regional FAs. In addition, UEFA has set up a network of experts in all of its 53 member associations. And finally, we're called upon to intensify co-operation with the law enforcement agencies at national and international level.
DFB.de: Increasingly, clubs facing crowd trouble charges manage to identify the guilty individuals and make them pay whatever fine has been imposed…
Sandrock: … which is actually the right approach, recommended by the international federations. Anyone who violates the law has to face the consequences. Just because you're in a football stadium you're not immune from prosecution! Passionate support is one thing, but using violence or firing off pyrotechnics is quite another. There's no such thing as "harmless violence." I mean you wouldn't go up on a high-rise building and throw lighters or even coins down onto the pavement, would you? Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of fans agree that football is a game, and we should keep it this way – without any violence, flares, vicious chanting, or anti-social behaviour.