The Safe Stadium Experience

In July, the German FA, the DFB, and the Bundesliga association, the DFL, organised a much publicised Security Summit in which, in the wake of public outcry at events at the end of last season, a Code of Conduct was drawn up and signed by almost all Bundesliga, 2. Bundesliga and 3. Liga clubs (covered on this blog). The Code of Conduct was subject to a huge amount of criticism from football fans from all walks of life for its fuzzy, unclear statements concerning subjects that most of us take as read anyway and seen as a means to appease the wider public and politicians who considered there to be a “new dimension of violence” in German football, despite reams of evidence to the contrary. Now, two months after the Code of Conduct was published, a document was leaked from the inner sanctum of the DFB and DFL entitled “Sicheres Stadionerlebnis” (“Safe Stadium Experience”). In it, the governing bodies put forward a range of proposals to “ensure that the stadium experience remains a safe one…”.[1]

Before this document was leaked, there was an interesting development at the DFL. A criminologist named Thomas Feltes employed in an “academic committee” run by the DFL gave a (quite astounding) interview to SPORT BILD in early September[2] where he strongly criticised the DFB’s approach to governing the sport and its fans. He criticised their lack of consistency and their unwillingness to lead an open discussion with fans/fan representatives on problems and solutions. He also slammed the stadium ban procedure, mentioning the fact that banning someone from public locations was a matter for the police and the judiciary and not something in which the DFB should be involved, before comparing them to a “pigeon-breeding association” where mandates of vital importance to football fans and society as a whole were awarded on a honorary basis. Let’s give them their dues, the DFB and DFL are at least consistent whenever criticism is levelled at them. Their solution in such situations is always the equivalent of putting your fingers in your ears and shouting LA LA LA, CAN’T HEAR YOU. Feltes was sacked.

If the Feltes case showed anything, it was that the DFB and DFL weren’t going to budge on any of their positions in terms of safety. What they see as problematic in German fan scenes has been met with sanctions and the threat of more (if you don’t behave, we’ll take away your terracing your naughty boys and girls). In truth, football violence is down.[3]

Then, in September, came the leak. In the preamble, the DFB and DFL declare that “… interaction between all those responsible for safety and supporter service is already at a very high level in terms of infrastructure and organisation and problems are solved locally.”[4] So far, so good. They also mention the need for improvement in this respect but, after reading the paper, it’s hard to avoid getting the impression that the organisation of football matches in this country is in absolute chaos. Other proposals outlined in the document include stricter and, above all, a greater number of sanctions and punishments “to increase acceptance of the jurisdiction of the sport and increase safety”. There are also threats of privileges being withdrawn, including a crystal-clear statement that football fans are not vested with the right to stand. Threats are also made to clubs should there be any non-compliance with DFB and DFL regulations, including proposals to introduce stricter stadium requirements into the licensing regulations (read: those who don’t comply won’t get a licence to play in top two tiers) and, perhaps most amazingly, a proposal to withhold a percentage of clubs’ TV money to offset against any fines for crowd trouble (read: use of pyrotechnics) which may occur over the course of the season.

There are some positives buried in there somewhere, including proposals to increase the presence the away team’s stewards and even stadium announcer at away games to prevent tense situations with home team stewards. Increases in the amount of funding received by fan liaison projects are also a very welcome move indeed, but it’s by no means enough. There is also a promise of better dialogue with fans, although any evidence of this has been thin on the ground.

The really interesting stuff comes when we get to the “Possible demands of third parties” section[5]. This is where we get a really clear picture of how the DFB and DFL see themselves. The first proposal is the request for a change in pyrotechnics legislation. Is that perhaps because the use of pyrotechnics is actually allowed by law under certain restrictions and conditions? After all, the DFB broke off negotiations with fan representatives and pro-pyro groups after initially stating that nothing stood in the way of pilot projects involving the controlled use of pyrotechnics. Would it be completely outside of the realms of possibility that the law actually allows controlled usage and that the DFB and DFL want that to be changed?

Another proposal in this section is regular reporting from the police authorities and the judiciary regarding the latest developments in investigations against potential crimes committed in football stadiums. Let’s make this clear, the DFB is not a public authority and the DFL is a private corporation, and they are considering requesting regular updates on criminal investigations…. What’s more, they are also considering requesting that the police notify them of identification checks that are carried out whenever there is the suspicion that a crime has been committed. Astounding! Again, this is an example of the criticism that came from Thomas Feltes, namely that the DFB and DFL are sticking their noses in where they have absolutely no right to.

The paper soon attracted criticism from all manner of bloggers and football fans, including St. Pauli blog Magischer FC, and The first official response from a club, however, came on Wednesday when 1.FC Union Berlin published an incredible nine-page assault on the DFB and DFL signed by the club, the fan liaison office and three fan groups (including the Szene Köpenick umbrella organisation encompassing various ultra groups). The statement not only picks apart almost every single one of the DFB and DFL’s points, but also highlights the fact that many of the proposals put forward will actually counteract and jeopardise all the progress that has been made in and around FC Union, leading to an escalation in the already strained situation which the clubs themselves will have to face and then duly be punished for. The following day, FC St. Pauli published a shorter statement along the same lines that describes their opposition to the moves.

There’s no doubt that crimes are committed at football stadiums and that those who do commit such crimes should be punished for their actions. As FC Union point out in their statement, our society is not free of violence, and therefore neither are our football stadiums. However, looking at the figures in relative terms, it’s a misnomer to say that football stadiums are dangerous places to be. According to police statistics from the 2010/2011 season, more than 17.5 million people watched a Bundesliga or 2. Bundesliga match. 846 (0.005%) were injured while doing so and 5,818 (0.033%) people had charges filed against them (although I dread to think how many of those injuries were caused by pepper spray or overzealous policing).[6] In comparison, (one also cited in FC Union’s statement) 6.4 million people visited this year’s Oktoberfest in Munich. 1,400 (0.2%) had charges pressed against them and 8,400 (0.13%) were injured.[7] In the media, football fans are compared to the Taliban while Oktoberfest is (rightly) seen as part of Germany’s culture – where’s the balance?

The way to solve violence in football stadiums and among young people is not through catch-all punishments such as exclusion from away travel or matches behind closed doors. In fact, this probably has the opposite effect as it punishes normal[8] football fans and everyone else and, if anything, attracts every more scorn in the direction of the governing bodies. The right solution is committed social work and appropriate preventative measures. As Thomas Feltes said in his interview with SPORT BILD, 95% of young football fans who are susceptible for being sucked in to violence can be reached out to by such measures. It’s high time the DFB recognised that taking such a hard line is only going to be met by opposition and ridicule. Their unwillingness to enter into dialogue with those who actually matter in football and who actually make the DFB and DFL’s “product” into the amazing spectacle that it is, is as petty as it is short-sighted.

The final word I think has to go to 1. FC Union Berlin. Let’s hope other clubs follow suit in condemnation.

“DFB/DFL mögen es sich leisten können, ökonomisch langfristig und damit sozialpolitisch kurzsichtig zu denken und zu handeln, sie stehlen sich damit jedoch aus einer umfassenden sozialen Verantwortung, die sie nicht gewählt haben mögen, die ihnen als Verwalter und Vermarkter, jedoch nicht Besitzer, des Kulturguts Fußball ohne Wenn und Aber obliegt.”

“DFB/DFL may believe they can think and act in long-term economic terms and therefore short-sightedly with regard to their social policy, but in doing so they are shirking their enormous social responsibility that is incumbent upon them as administrators and marketers, but not owners, of such a huge part of our culture, the game of football.”

For further reading in English, try Mark Wilson’s post on Union’s statement and the brief post from Yorkshire St. Pauli.

[1] Item 5, page 5, Sicheres Stadionerlebnis, 27.09.2012

[4] Item 2, page 5, Sicheres Stadionerlebnis, 27.09.2012

[5] Page 32, Sicheres Stadionerlebnis, 27.09.2012

[8] By normal I mean non-ultras, so people with a season ticket who attend the odd away game but aren’t actively involved in their club



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  2. Sohn der Medway

    Brilliant stuff Dave. The problem, as I see it, is a lack of democracy that affects both sides of the debate. The authoratarian nature of German society characterised in laws such as the Ausweispflicht is inevitably going to lead to a heavy handed approach when it comes to football. I’m not personally in favour of Pyro, however, if the decision was made democratically to allow it, then I would have no problem, such is democracy, some you win some you lose. The DFB/DFL clearly have no intention of allowing such a discussion to take place (which as a private organisation, they don’t necessarily have to) but the lack of discussion is incompatible with a harmonious football society. However, I still have my doubts whether, should the DFB/DFL relax their stance due to pressure from the member clubs, the decision on whether to allow Pyro or not will be one representative of all members of the fangemeinschaft. Unfortunately, by making the discussion a war between Ultras and the DFB/DFL, instead of a genuine debate civil liberties in football, it has become a battle that they can no longer win.

  3. David

    That’s the thing though, the DFL and DFB are custodians of the game, not owners of a brand. They’re responsible for ensuring that everything runs smoothly and for serving the interests of, to use a horrible marketing term, the “stakeholders” in football – i.e. the clubs and the fans. The problem is their unwillingness to enter into dialogue. They’ve fucked the Pyrotechnik Legalisieren – Emotionen Respektieren campaign around by initially opening discussions and then stopping them suddenly (which I maintain is a result of them realising that there are, strictly speaking, no legal obstacles stopping controlled pyro use in stadiums).

    It’s not just about pyro, it’s the “hard line” they (DFL/DFB and the police) are taking. It’s doomed to failure. The article published on last night is nothing less than pure provocation on the part of the police union:

  4. dankarell

    Thanks for the very thorough write-up on the controversy going on in German football. I just went to my first ever Bundesliga (or any German Liga match, for that matter) match last night (Eintracht vs. Mainz), and there was the 12:12 protest at the Commerzbank, and it was very very impressive. If the club heads didn’t notice that it was as quiet as a library in there the first 12 minutes of the match (13.5% of the match!) then they won’t notice anything.

    Personally, though it was a darby match (I think it was? Mainz is pretty close by no?), I never felt nervous inside or outside of the stadium that I’d be attacked or anything. The ultras behaved extremely well, kept their passion in the stadium (and boy were they loud) and despite the loss, didn’t feel the need to go all 1970’s England on some unsuspecting souls.

    I guess my question is, are German fans always that loud and intense, or is it seemingly louder and stronger now because all the fan groups are coming together in a sort-of final act of desperation? It was definitely some of the loudest fans I’ve seen in Europe, and I hope stuff like that can continue, regardless of the DFL and DFB’s future decisions.

    Thanks again for the blog posts, and I’ll be sure to keep following the situation in the future, since I got to see it in action first hand. Would never happen in an American sporting venue, I can guarantee that.

    • David

      Hey, sorry it’s taken my a while to reply.

      Eintracht – Mainz is indeed a derby, although I think I’m right in saying that Kickers Offenbach are Eintracht’s arch-rivals (although they’ve not met on a regular basis for a while now). The German ultra culture has been going for about 15 years, and the volume of the support has been a permanent fixture for years now. Issues such as this are often an area where ultras put aside rivalries and join forces for the common good. See also: Union Berlin ultras sending tickets to Eintracht fans so that they could defy the away fan ban imposed by DFB last season, fan culture demo in Berlin in September 2010. The 12:12 protests recently have been another perfect illustration of ultras joining forces.

      Pretty much the single source of reference on anything ultra-related in Germany is Jonas Gabler. If you read or understand German, his book on ultras is well worth a read.

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