The ongoing fans protests against the DFL’s plan to welcome outside investment into German football shows no sign of abating this weekend after the Deutsche Fußball Liga issued a statement earlier in the week looking to reassure fans and proposing discussions.
Friday’s big games in both Hamburg and Dortmund saw lengthy disruptions as the fan groups continued their protests during the matches. HSV’s match against Hannover at the Volksparkstadion saw fans delay the start of the second half after attaching bicycle locks to the goal, which needed to be cut off before the game could continue.
The game was halted again soon after the restart when the referee took the players off the pitch. Offensive banners in the away end depicting chairman Martin Kind between a crosshair. Kind is reported to have voted in favour of allowing investors into German football despite the fans’ objection. Hannover players and coach Stefan Leitl had to plead with the fans to remove the banners in order for the game not to be called-off.
Later in Dortmund’s Bundesliga clash with Freiburg at the Signal Iduna Park, the game was once more delayed by tennis balls being thrown onto the pitch. There were also numerous banners displayed with some taking aim at club CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke, who is also the Speaker of the DFL’s Executive Committee.
“DFL – up for bloody money?”, “DFL – increasing income, falling values!” and “Watzke and investors hand in hand, driving the league to the wall.” (Wand in German rhymes with hand). The fact that some of the outside investment may be coming from Saudi Arabian sources is a major point of contention for the fans and the protests look set to continue or even increase.
The DFL issued a statement on Thursday trying to appease the fans’ concerns and to offer constructive discussions.
“Part of what makes the fan culture in German football stadiums special is that fans can express their views on banners and in chants. It is with great respect and gratitude that the DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga supports the fan’s positive spirit and the way in which fans in all stadiums have taken a stand for important issues, such as against right-wing extremism and for our democratic coexistence in recent weeks.
“We can understand if fans are concerned about a complex and widely discussed topic such as a strategic marketing partnership. This makes the central message all the more important: Fans will not suffer any disadvantage as a result of this process. There is no “selling out”, no loss of control and no departure from the 50+1 rule – and therefore no reason to indulge in horror scenarios.
“Quite the opposite. The ongoing development of centralised marketing will ensure that our Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 will remain in place moving ahead, as will the basic values of the leagues and their tried and trusted structures.”
This appeal is however unlikely to have much bearing on the ongoing protests with fans still deeply unhappy at the fact that the original vote, which rejected the proposal, was simply by-passed by holding a second vote on the matter. The fact that the second vote was held behind closed doors and in secret is another bone of contention with the accusation that Martin Kind (and possibly others) voted in favour of the deal against the express wishes of the club’s fans.
VfB Stuttgart president Claus Vogt has come out this week to call for a transparent vote saying the second vote cannot be regarded as democratic: “Our understanding of democracy – also in football – should be: The majority decides. However, it cannot be ensured that a democratically achieved voting result is correct, one should discuss with each other in the sense of democracy and in the sense of our football whether a new, transparent vote of all 36 clubs in the DFL is necessary. I mean: yes, it is necessary!”
The DFL wants to talk, the fans currently do not, and the whole issue of the investment plan and the fan protest is not going to go away anytime soon. At some point a solution is going to have to be found, but it is hard to see either side currently being happy to cede any ground. We’ve moved from chocolate coins, to tennis balls, to bicycle locks and offensive banners- what’s next?