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Opinion: DFL run risk ignoring fan groups

April 23, 2020

While many are still struggling to come to terms with coronavirus, professional football in Germany is still persuing a restart. This proves how detached the sport is from society, argues DW’s Felix Tamsut.

Fußball Übertragung
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Weihrauch

"König Fussball rules the world," goes a song recorded by West Germany's 1974 World Cup squad. The term "König Fussball" (King Football) is still part of the German lexicon to this day. It describes how, in Germany, football is the most important thing. When the Bundesliga is on, it's the only thing that matters.

Over the years, though, it has also started to be used to describe the self-importance with which the sport regards itself: as the king, who should be served by its subjects, the rest of society.

Felix Tamsut Kommentarbild

Despite the ongoing nature of the coronavirus crisis, German's top three divisions and the top women's league are ready to play games behind closed doors, largely to secure much-needed TV money to help many clubs cope with the financial ramifications of COVID-19.

The coronavirus outbreak poses challenges to everyone in society. Many businesses are facing difficulties, and Bundesliga clubs are no different. Reports say quite a few clubs could become insolvent in the coming weeks should a solution not be found.

Ignoring fan groups

But in going ahead with the plan to play to empty stadiums, the German Football League (DFL), the company that governs the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2, and the clubs have acted against the advice of many of the country's football fan representatives.

A statement by Fanszenen Deutschlands, who speak for many of Germany's ultra groups, has urged German football to seek reforms which would result in more sustainable management rather than search for short-term fixes. "The era of football being completely detached from the rest of society must come to an end," their statement read. Another statement, by Germany's biggest representation of fan groups, Unsere Kurve, echoed similar views, adding: "If football keeps on going like it does, we're out!"

The issue with the Bundesliga being restarted is about much more than just football. While medical staff, nursing home staff and teachers in Germany are not currently being tested for COVID-19 on a regular basis, football players will reportedly be tested multiple times a week, regardless of whether they show symptoms. Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that the club's players are already being tested for coronavirus twice a week.

Lars Schaade, the vice-president of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's leading authority on virology, was asked about Bundesliga players being regularly tested for COVID-19. "It's a difficult question. I think the tests should be applied where they're medically necessary,” he replied. Young, healthy footballers do not fit this description.

'Special perks'

That's not the only way football restarting will take up resources which could be needed elsewhere. Even in the absence of fans, the operation of a football game requires stewards, police forces, medical staff and other personnel. And that's before mentioning the idea of a group of dozens of people travelling from one city to another for a game of football during a time when many people are still locked at home for safety.

The DFL may argue that the 20,000 tests required do not put any strain on the rest of society as they represent less than 0.4% of Germany's capacity, but it's more than just about the numbers. It's about football considering itself worthy of having special perks which are not available for the rest of society, including those putting themselves on the line fighting the virus in hospitals and care homes. It's about solidarity with the rest of society, or in German football's case, the lack thereof.

The leaders of German football could have set an example which would have cemented their place as society's most important sport. They could have also used the chance to promote dialogue with fan representatives, and indeed, society's representatives, to see how a more sustainable management model for football's future could be found, one which would have served all sides. No one wants to see clubs going bust, and such solutions would have ensured it would have been less likely to happen in future crises.

Instead, by going for a short-term fix, over meaningful change, they've reinforced the perception of them in some sections of society as peddlers of the "König Fussball" mentality. As is the case with many monarchs, German football's decision shows a lack of connection with the people which it aims to represent.

It therefore shouldn't be surprised if it ends up losing its crown.