If this is football ⋆ An Old International

If this is football

The last few weeks have been revealing and testing. Testing as the Corona pandemic has forced the world to a stand still, has made us re-think our daily habits like shaking hands, high fiving, the famous French ‘bisous’ and worst of all attending football matches with tens of thousands of other people. In this respect the pandemic has been revealing.

Football in Society

Some people think that football is more important than other parts of society or in fact think soccer is far more important so as to allow play to continue. While it is clear that football is part and reflective of society we should not forget that football also has a responsibility. It affects thousands of people if football is about to re-start as early as mid-May. For some club directors this is the least football should do, others argue it is already too late, the fears about the propagation of corona virus have been exaggerated and the league should re-start ASAP.
This of course is nonsense. We have passed the peak of the first wave and in Germany it has been mild in comparison with France and the UK, yet it should not allow the government and the authorities to ease the lock down too fast and/or too early. It could be fatal.

However, the argument that without a continuation of the Bundesliga many clubs will face a certain death, will not work as other sectors such as theatres, bars, restaurants, clubs remain shut and there are many more people dependent on these than on football clubs. The cultural landscape of the world post-corona will be a different one, that is for sure. And football is not exempt from it. The big guns will have the means to pull through somehow; but will the smaller clubs, too? This is doubtful. It starts as high up as the third division in Germany, which is seen as a mere transit station than a league to stay and grow. There is not enough money available in this league to guarantee healthy club finances. The gravy train stops at the two top divisions of German football: Bundesliga 1 & 2.
The argument of employment is shallow as most people working on match days are hired on an hourly basis, in other words zero hour contracts, except of course the police, players, coaches, directors and journalists.

The third division under the tutelage of the DFB have received a collective payment of €7.5m from Germany’s four Champions League clubs. This is a nice gesture but it comes with a catch. The DFB, in charge of Liga 3 has decided to share the money equally among the clubs of this division and the top women’s league if the money is used for testing the playing and non-playing staff. More payments follow after each match day played; thus it is required that ALL clubs start playing again in May behind closed doors. This despite the fact that Germany’s federal structure does not allow a common regulation for all sixteen countries, but each country will have their own. This means that some clubs are already back in training, though in small groups only, while others have to keep their players fit via individual training sessions. With these settings, no fair competition is possible and the consequences for some clubs could be harsh. Some cities have generally ruled out to have matches behind closed doors because the facilities inside the grounds are just not up to standard.

To put this in perspective: the money for each club would run up to €300000, which is only used for testing, testing and testing and to cover some of the costs on match day. At the same time there are only 200 people allowed inside the grounds to watch, on top of the media and other match day personell.

The president of the DFB, Fritz Keller has described the provision of this amount as ‘a strong act of solidarity’. The vice president, Peter Frymuth said that ‘football has to stand together in times like these.’

Seriously, if this is football, bin it. This is a football that puts money ahead of health, profits over people. Once more the fans in Germany have acted quicker and more responsible than those in charge of their favourite clubs and have demanded that the season be stopped and voided. There should not be any league champions, no cup winners, no relegation, no promotion. End of.

Hope

There is hope, of course. Hope that the season will be cancelled and that decision could be made as late as May 25, when an extraordinary general meeting of the DFB will discuss this very option. The DFB is in a difficult position but it has put itself in there largely because the leaders of this organisation have not come up with a plan and have not (could not?) communicate as effectively as the clubs have; it has been the clubs demanding a re-start and their voices grow louder and stronger. This powershift may have long lasting consequences for German football. For now it has added insult to injury for the DFB whose reputation has suffered immensely over the last couple of years.

The hope is small but it dies last.

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