The Problem with Soccer in Germany Part 2: Fan Behavior- How the German Soccer Leagues should crack down on fan violence

Could basketball and handball surpass soccer as the most favorite sport to watch in Germany? It may be the case, after watching this basketball game between Bayreuth and Oldenbourg in the German Basketball Premier League in Dec. 2010. Bayreuth lost a heartbreaker on its home court 85-84.

Going to a soccer game on a Saturday at a German soccer stadium is a ritual for at least 10 million fans. For 90 minutes they enjoy the company of their friends and family, cheering for their favorite team, booing at the referees for making a wrong call, singing and supporting their team with slogans and fan waving, and when their favorite team scores the winning goal, they race to the entrance of the locker room, cheering and congratulating the team on a job well done.
Yet looking at soccer in Germany this year, the scene presents a rather different story. Instead of cheering for their team, fans are taunting them even if they lose, throwing firecrackers and smoke bombs in the stands and on the field. Fights are breaking out between the fans of both teams, while some are chasing the fan bus, throwing stones at the windows and harassing the driver. And the most climatic event to signal the end of Premier League Play was on 16 May in the relegation play between Hertha BSC Berlin and Fortuna Duesseldorf, when thousands of fans stormed the soccer field to celebrate Duesseldorf’s promotion to the top flight league and Berlin’s relegation to the second tier league- but with two minutes left in regulation! It took 20 minutes to bring the fans back to their seats before the game could continue, which had contain so much chaos, and as a consequence, involved the German government afterwards. While the team from Hertha filed a complaint and demanded that the game be replayed, it fell on deaf ears on the part of the German Soccer Federation (DFB) and the DFB Supreme Court. Still, it is a cause for alarm in Germany as the problem with fans, the team and even the law enforcement has reached a point where tougher measures will have to be made before the start of the 2012/13 season.
Normally one will see such fan behavior in American sports, as millions of viewers have seen some events that have led to questions about the role of fans and athletes. The best example can be found in the event on 19 November, 2004 at a basketball game between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, where a brawl among the players gave a fan an incentive to throw an object at Ron Artest, who raced into the stands to beat him up. Other fans and players jumped in and a minute later, the court was loaded with people throwing punches and kicking each other. The game was called off with less than a minute left. Artest and at least 10 other players other received suspensions of up to a year; the fan instigating the attack was banned from attending any professional basketball games at the place where the brawl took place- Detroit-for life.
In Germany, many people take pride in the country’s sports, whether it is handball or basketball. While watching a game in each sport in the last two years- a basketball game in Bayreuth (Bavaria) and a handball game in Flensburg, the mood of the fans was spectacular, as there was cheering and jeering, people meeting new people, and there were no firecrackers thrown in the sporting complexes, let alone fans running onto the court to hinder a game. Even the cheerleaders and the DJs managed to involve the fans and provide them with a spectacular show, to make the trip to the game worthwhile. An example of such sportsmanship between the fans and the players, were found in a game between SG Flensburg-Handewitt and Gummersbach on 27 April, 2011, a game which Flensburg won in a seesaw match 29-25.

Yet the fan problem in German soccer has become so dire that the DFB, German soccer leagues, the federal government, police and its labor unions, and other parties are coming together this summer to discuss ways to crack down on fan violence. Already conclusive is the fact that fines and sanctions against teams, whose fans instigated the violence, have had very little effect on curbing the violence. Banning fans from attending any soccer games, as has been stressed by German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich after the disastrous  game between Duesseldorf and Berlin may not be the most effective as fans can find creative ways of entering the soccer stadium masquerading as someone else and causing trouble there as well. The police and its union have strongly recommended that each of the 54 top flight teams and the DFB provide security fees and take points off the standings for teams instigating the violence. Yet many teams may not afford high fees for security, and for some who are cutting costs in order to compete, security is one of those aspects that has been on the chopping block.
The most viable solution to the increase in fan violence is to combine all the variants and add a five-year ban from competing on the national and international level, leaving them stuck in the Regionalliga (the fourth league) to set an example for other teams to clean up their act and be square with their fans, while at the same time, demand that each team entering the top three leagues to have strict security measures in place for every game and tournament. This includes taking finger prints and facial scans from each fan entering a sports stadium and having a database for them so that they can be tracked, scanning them for all forms of firecrackers and any materials that could potentially cause a fire, and even involving the German military at places where violence is the norm at the soccer games. In the case of the 2012 season so far, that would mean cities like Frankfurt and the surrounding areas, Cologne, Berlin, Dresden and Karlsruhe, where reports of violence have been recorded the most, would have military presence.  A record of the violence during the 2011/12 soccer season can be found here. The last part is a common practice in regions prone to violence, like the Middle East and Africa, yet it seems like the trend has arrived here, which makes more law enforcement through the police and army a necessary and not a luxury.  Should teams not afford strict security measures, they would not be allowed to compete in the top three leagues.
In the event that violence breaks out during or even after the soccer game, a “Three Strikes and You’re Out” rule should be enforced on all teams, keeping track of the record of violence committed by fans of the teams as well as scrutinizing the teams that are unable to control them. First strike means fines in the six digits and three points taken off, second strike means doubling of fines and six points taken off and the third strike means automatic relegation one league lower. If the event happens the fourth time, a five-year ban should be imposed. This rule is based on a law in the US dealing with drunk driving that was passed in the 1990s, which exists in most of the states- first strike meaning heavy fines, second strike meaning revoking the driving license and the third strike meaning jail time, in some cases, permanently. Yet its origins come from America’s favorite past time sport, baseball.  A ban from attending any soccer game for those committing the violence should be enforced, but the responsibility of keeping order at a soccer game lies solely with the two teams competing with each other. Therefore, one should consider the punishment for each insubordination a punishment for all involved.  While these measures are probably the harshest and it may contrabate the Constitutional Laws, resulting in the involvement of the Supreme Court in Karlsruhe on many occasions, but given the sophistication of the violence committed at German Soccer games, if even the German government is stepping up pressure for action, then the situation is at the point where inaction is no longer an option.
If there is a silver lining to all the violence, especially at the end of the season, it is fortunate that there have been no deaths or severe injuries reported. But it takes a tragedy to change that. It may not be the one similar to the infamous soccer stadium fire at Bradford City (in the UK) 0n 11 May, 1985, but one death will change the way we think about the game of soccer in Germany. We have already seen that in other places, as one can see with the violence at a soccer game at Port Said in Egypt on 1 February of this year, where over 70 people were killed. Unfortunately, Germany has taken one step closer to the danger zone and should the violence persist by the time the whistle blows to start the next season, we could see our first casualty recorded, regardless of which league game it is. When that happens, it will change the face of German soccer forever to a point where if there is a soccer game, the only way we will see it is on TV…….. as a virtual computer game!

 

 

Flensburg Files Fast Fact

Thestadium fire at Bradford City was (supposedly) caused by someone dropping a cigarette into the wooden bleachers full of rubbish, causing a fire that engulfed the stadium in less than five minutes. 56 people died in the fire and over 260 were injured. The fortunate part was the fact that no barriers to the soccer field were in place, like it is in today’s soccer stadiums in general, which allowed most of the fans to escape through the soccer field. It was a tragic end to the team’s promotion to the second tier of the British Premier League. The stadium was rebuilt in several phases (finishing in 2001), including replacing the wooden bleachers with steel and concrete. Since the fire, a ban of wooden bleachers have been enforced both in Britain as well as the rest of Europe.

 

Flensburg Files’ Fragen Forum:

After reading this article and watching the clips, here are a couple questions for you to mull over and discuss with other readers:

1. How would you approach the problem of fan violence in soccer stadium? Which measures are the most effective in your opinion: fines and other sanctions against teams, finger print scanning and keeping a database of the fans, point reduction in the football standings, banning teams with fan trouble from competing in certain leagues, or a combination of some of the measures? If none of the suggestions work, what would you suggest?

2. Do you think handball and basketball will surpass soccer in Germany in terms of popularity? Or will soccer remain a household name, like America has its household name sports of American football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey?

3. Do you think fan violence is a universal problem in sports or is it focused on selective sports?

 

Please submit your answers in the Comment section, which is here after this article.  Thanks and looking forward to hearing from you readers!

 

 

 

 

 

The Problem with Soccer in Germany Part 1: Overview

People have their favorite sports that they love to watch. In the US we have our traditional sports of baseball, football, ice hockey and basketball, but we also have our state-of-the-art type of sports as well, like bungee jumping, skateboarding, karate, etc.  In Germany we have handball, basketball and especially soccer. Why especially? Like in other European countries, we take to soccer like church-goers take to the Bible. We watch the German Bundesliga games every Saturday and Sunday and for many, they become emotionally attached to their favorite teams. Yet the events that have occurred in the last two weeks have raised the question of whether German soccer has become a dysfunctional sport, where the relationship between the fans and the soccer teams have become as frigid as the Winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11 respectively, where money is the determining factor to keeping an elite team in the elite league, and cities that deserve to be in the Upper House have been denied and others with financial and management issues should be relegated to a local soccer team to be cleansed of their troubles. Professional players are emigrating to other countries and the most disturbing development is the fan behavior at the soccer games, which has reached the point where a potential disaster is in the making, waiting to strike at a moment’s notice without any way of averting it.

The Flensburg Files will present a series on The Problem with German Soccer, which will focus on the following topics that will be presented during the summer months with some solutions on the part of the author, based on information collected both written and orally. Here are some topics that will be presented that will provide the audience with an opportunity to look at the problems facing soccer in Germany and its potential to spread to other places where the sport has established a fan base, like the US and Canada, as well as those in southern and eastern Asia and parts of Africa, just to name a few:

The Fan Problem: In light of the recent events this past season in places, like Rostock,  Düsseldorf, Karlsruhe and Frankfurt, fan rowdiness has taken new forms to a point where the teams are having difficulty controlling them and the German Soccer League (DFL)’s attempts of sanctioning them have proven futile. This segment will feature the gravity of the situation and present some solutions to make soccer a fun and safe sport to watch.

The Financial Problem: In order to host games in the upper leagues, teams have to have sufficient liquidity in order to compete. Yet in recent years, teams are having problems coming up with financial support in order to even survive. Using the examples of Hansa Rostock and TuS Koblenz this segment will focus on the problems facing these teams and how they are struggling to survive.
The Management Problem: Tied in together with the financial difficulties the soccer teams face, this segment will focus on ways teams can effectively manage themselves without having to change personnel.

The East-West Problem: It is amazing that after 22 years we still have this issue even in sports. Here, we will focus on the difficulties of the soccer teams in eastern Germany (the former GDR) keeping up with the western counterparts.

And lastly, we’ll look at cities of the past and present whose soccer teams have risen and fallen from the top. This has been divided up into three segments: The shooting stars, The fallen stars, and The Has-beens- meaning the teams that used to be powerhouses in the past but have since been a memory.

The goal is to address these problems to the public and encourage ways to support German soccer in a positive way and make this a sport for people to watch and have fun. This includes encouraging good sportsmanship and stressing the importance of solidarity in the sport. After all, German soccer is a very popular sport that many people around the world watch and it would be a shame to see its reputation tarnished due to its destructive patterns that we have seen in recent times, some of which has a recipe for disaster if they persist without any concrete measures to stop them.


As we are still on the same page, here are some interesting events, most of which will be mentioned in the series:

Dortmund grabs a double.  For the first time ever in the history of German soccer, the soccer team Borussia Dortmund won a double championship. It had won the German Erstliga Title two weeks before thanks to some key victories over Bayern Munich, Mönchengladbach and Schalke, just to name a few. On 13 May, it completely swept the series against Bayern Munich in the German Cup (German: DFB Pokal) but in a fashionable way: a 5-2 spanking over the team which had won seven out of the last 15 cups and won the regular season title nine times since 1997. Congratulations to Jürgen Klopp and his team for accomplishing a monumental task.

Podolski goes to Arsenal (London). One of the key players of the 2010 German soccer team as well as the German team FC Cologne, Lukas Podolski signed an unlimited contract at an undisclosed amount to play for Chelsea in the British Premier League beginning next season. The move was perfect timing as Cologne finished second to last in the standings and therefore must play in the second league in the 2012/13 season. Arsenal London has won 13 Premier League Titles (including the last one in 2003/04) and holds the record for being in the Top 5 standings of the Premere League, it has just finished its 16th straight season near the top. Podolski started his career at Cologne before going to Bayern Munich in 2006 and played for three seasons before returning to Cologne.

Hansa Rostock saved from bankruptcy. Once the darling of soccer in eastern Germany and the last team to win the soccer title and the national cup for the now defunct East Germany (GDR) in 1991, Hansa Rostock used to plague many traditional soccer teams until it faced financial trouble and was forced to relegate in the second and third leagues. On 9 May, the Rostock City Council voted unanimously for a financial package to provide partial debt relief for the beleaguered soccer team, whose debt had soared to 8.5 million Euros. At the same time, a financial shot of 750,000 was given to the team to play in the Third League in the coming season as the team finished dead last in the Second League. Had the city council voted against the measure, the team would have been forced to file for bankruptcy, which would have resulted in an automatic relegation into the fourth or fifth league. Worst case would have been the team being liquidated, which would not have been the first time it had happened. Saxony Leipzig, which had played mostly in the fifth league since its inception in 1991, was liquidated last year as it was unable to support itself financially. In addition, Bayern Munich, one of Rostock’s archrivals in the Erstliga, will travel to the city to face the team in a benefit soccer game sometime in 2013.

Relegation Games end with a bang! Sanctions being considered. In the first three tiers of the German Bundesliga, there is a relegation game where the team finishing third to last in an upper league takes on the team finishing in third place in the league lower than that. The concept has worked wonders since 2010 but this year’s relegation games have come at a price. For the first time in 15 years, Jahn Regensburg (which played in the third league) and Fortuna Düsseldorf (which played in the second league) are being promoted to the second and first leagues after downing Karlsruhe SC and Hertha BSC Berlin respectively. However both games were overshadowed by violence, fireworks, and in the game between Berlin and Düsseldorf, fans running onto the field with two minutes left in the game forcing the referees to stop match for 20 minutes. The DFB is investigating each incident and sanctions are pending. The two incidents are part of a list of other incidents which has plagued the 2011/12 season and has forced the DFB to look into tougher guidelines for fan behavior in general. More on that in the next article on the problem with German soccer.