Despite talk of a second wave in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the DFL is planning to have spectators return to Bundesliga stadia in the 2020/21 season. What do the clubs and fans make of the concept proposal?
Plans are slowly, but surely being set in stone to have spectators return to stadia in the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga next season. The Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) has drawn up a list of key points that should make it possible to play in front of a limited number of spectators under a specific set of conditions.
The main conditions revolve around limiting the number of fans, closing standing sections, stopping the sale of alcohol and providing no away fan allocation. Restrictions on travelling support are expected to remain valid until the end of the calendar year, while October 31 is seen as a potential date to lift restrictions on alcohol and standing sections.
Next Tuesday, the 36 Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga clubs will attend a meeting to make decisions on the proposals in place.
'Fundamental distrust of fans'
While the average season ticket holder will be happy to have access to their favorite club again, the active fan scene is critical of the plans set to be put forward by the league association.
"In principle, we welcome the fact that the DFL would like to establish uniform guidelines for all 36 first and second division clubs," Thomas Kessen from the fan representation "Unsere Kurve" told DW. "However, some of the proposed DFL measures are unacceptable to us: a blanket ban on away fans, a blanket ban on alcohol, a blanket ban on standing room - these are all points we cannot support."
Kessen and many other fan representatives see the DFL's measures as a veiled accusation. "To ban away fans, alcohol and standing room is further evidence of the fundamental distrust of football fans," complains Kessen.
"That's where we stand against it. During the Coronavirus crisis, German football fans have clearly demonstrated how responsible they are and that they are aware of the overall social significance of the bigger picture."
Sig Zelt, spokesman for "Pro Fans", has a similar view: "What bothers me is the subliminal message that the fans are seen as a risk factor who cannot behave," he told the German press agency, DPA.
No standing sections?
It's not just the fans and active organizations who would prefer to see the stadiums filled up with fans again, the clubs do too. "As a club, we want to see fans allowed access to the standing sections again," 1. FC Köln press spokeswoman Lil Zercher told DW. "However, we would also like a uniform, league-wide regulation."
Regulating rules in a uniform and league-wide manner - preferably with the help of the DFB for the 3. Liga and thus, the entirety of German professional football - is what fan representatives of "Unsere Kurve" are demanding.
But how will the restrictions be implemented when it comes to standing sections, for example? Should the standing sections be divided and cordoned off into individual areas? Should only small groups be allowed? Should a mask be compulsory?
"There are many possibilities," says Kessen. "But in the end it's up to the local decision-makers to make the right decision in cooperation with the local fan scene." However, Kessen says: "You don't have to put a blanket ban on fans in standing sections, but you can find a compromise by having serious dialogue with the fans regarding restrictions on a 'Corona match day'.”
Sprink: "No water-level reports”
Bundesliga side Bayer 04 Leverkusen is also in close contact with fans. Club Director of Fans and Social Affairs, Meinolf Sprink, is the man responsible for communication lines.
Responding to a question from DW, he confirmed that he and other club representatives are in regular discussions with the "Kurve Council", an organization representing Bayer 04 fans. The aim is to try to present possible scenarios to the supporters as transparently as possible.
The response from the fans has been positive, according to Sprink, but the club has taken a firm stance that those discussions are not to be made public. "We have clearly stated that we don't want to produce water-level reports, but will only go public when things are ready to be discussed.”
However, the DFL's concept still needs to be fine-tuned. Although the League Association has set some guidelines, all first and second division clubs must now ascertain how and whether the measures can be implemented.
This is dependent not only on the clubs themselves, but also on local authorities and local health authorities. The dispute between Werder Bremen and the Bremen Interior Minister Ulrich Mäurer during the corona-enforced break regarding the resumption of training showed the disparity and diversity of approaches adopted across Germany.
Details to iron out
It is fair to assume that the situation is not the same in any of the 36 stadiums. There are many more details involved than just how many fans can be placed where in the stadium.
How will the spectators be admitted? How can the toilet facilities be used? How many fans are allowed to stand where in the drinks queue at the same time? Are drinks served at all? How do you collect the cups afterwards? How do the fans get to the stadium? How and where do you let them out of the stadium again?
Clubs whose fans primarily use public transport, or who have adopted a park-and-ride system, have to more details to iron out than other clubs. Borussia Mönchengladbach have one of the more "ideal” set-ups, because Borussia-Park is located outside the city center in the countryside and the majority of spectators arrive by car, either individually or in small groups. This ensures spatial separation at least up until to the parking lot. But Gladbach's conditions are by no means "perfect” or uniform across Germany's top two divisions.
First, business as unusual?
Tuesday is decision day, but it is more likely that although a framework will apply to everyone, the patchwork quilt nature of the implementation feared by many fan representatives may become reality.
Ultimately, there is no other way than to handle regulations other than on an individual basis within the parameters of local restrictions. In addition, the Coronavirus pandemic has proven that it can change quickly. What is valid today can be outdated in 48 hours.
Authorities, clubs and the DFL are responsible for the safety of their fans. It is therefore not unthinkable for the new season to start with "Geisterspiele”, i.e. no fans, still being the accepted practice - at least until 31 October when the Corona restrictions expire in most of the German states.
Clubs and the league will think more than once about the risk that can be taken – but in the end they can't be governed by how much the fans are for a chance to finally be back in the stands.