Opinion: Bayern Munich AGM revealed a clash of worlds in German football | Opinion | DW | 27.11.2021

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Opinion

Opinion: Bayern Munich AGM revealed a clash of worlds in German football

Motions ignored, speakers rejected, directors jeered — Bayern Munich's AGM descended into chaos. For DW's Matt Ford, the scenes exposed a fundamental question at the heart of German football: what does it want to be?

Bayern Munich aren't just the most famous and most successful club in the Bundesliga; they're also one of the best examples of how member-led football clubs work in Germany.

As such, the chaotic scenes at Bayern's annual general meeting (AGM) on Thursday night didn't just reveal the huge divisions within the club itself; they also reflected a growing split in German football as a whole in 2021, a sport which is balanced precariously between two visions of itself.

Like most football clubs in Germany, Bayern Munich adhere to the 50+1 rule, which stipulates that 50% of the voting shares in a club's professional football division, plus one share, remain in the hands of the parent club itself. Adidas, Audi and Allianz may have 8.33% stakes each in the Bayern Munich AG (the professional football division), but the other 75% percent belong to the Bayern Munich e. V. (the parent club) with its 293,000 members, 780 of whom were present at the AGM.

Ahead of the meeting, one of those members, a lawyer by the name of Michael Ott, had submitted a motion which, if voted for, would have obliged Bayern not to renew their current sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways and prevented them from signing any future business deals with the middle-eastern state.

But the motion wasn't even admitted. Ott claims the club ignored the motion and took the club to court, which concluded that the motion wasn't urgent enough to be guaranteed admission.

Legal opinions on the matter vary. That's how democracy works. Not that Bayern Munich appear to understand that, given the performances delivered by club bosses on Thursday night.

Matt Ford

DW's Matt Ford

Bavarian democracy

Oliver Kahn, who succeeded Karl-Heinz Rummenigge as AG CEO earlier this year, didn't mention the word "Qatar" once, with Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) writing that the once "great, powerful, fearsome" former goalkeeper looked "blindsided by the vehemence of the evening."

Herbert Hainer came across even worse. The 67-year-old former Adidas CEO was elected club president in 2019, replacing the legendary Uli Hoeness, but doesn't appear to have understood the difference between running a private, global sportswear manufacturer and acting as an elected head of a democratic organization.

Hainer cut an arrogant figure, speaking down to the attendees as if they were paying customers or minor shareholders, not the majority stakeholders who elected him to his position.

Clash of worlds

It was a clash of worlds, a uniquely Bavarian understanding of democracy. 

Up on the podium, older businessmen who view Bayern Munich as a company battling to compete in the global industry which is modern football. And down on the floor, the members, the most active among them much younger, who view Bayern Munich as a football club in the truest sense of the word, their club, competing with other clubs who play football, the people's game.

"Never has the cultural and generational conflict been more pronounced than on this evening," wrote the SZ.

The fact of the matter is that both visions are true. Indeed, that's the entire point of the 50+1 rule: a commercial entity open to investment on the free market, but ultimately restrained and kept in check by club members.

But with the commercial side of football having pushed so far in one direction – with unfathomable wages and transfer fees, the pre-eminence of television, an attempted breakaway Super League, closed-shop Champions League reforms and tournaments awarded to corrupt, human rights abusing states – an opposite reaction is the only logical consequence. Especially within German club structures which specifically allow for it.

Kahn, Hainer and the Bayern Munich bosses experienced that up close on Thursday night, with added intensity given the size of the club and the way in which it is structured according to 50+1.

But the debate goes beyond just Bayern. It's about the future of German football, the global game as a whole, and that fundamental question: who does it belong to?