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Bundesliga has returned amid Covid-19, but why German fans are complaining?

German football fans are known for their ultra-supporter groups, passion for the beautiful game and an unparallel display of support and creativity in stadiums

football | Germany | Coronavirus

Arindam Roy  |  New Delhi 

Bundesliga: Eintracht Frankfurt vs Borussia Moenchengladbach
Moenchengladbach's Tobias Strobl, right, challenges Frankfurt's Mijat Gacinovic, left, during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Borussia Moenchengladbach in Frankfurt, Germany, Saturday, March 16, 2020. Photo: AP | PTI

On May 15, a day before Bundesliga resumed, fans, clubs, and associations across the world wondered - can Bundesliga do it? Is it really possible to complete the league amid (Covid-19) nightmare? Final conclusion to this question is still a few weeks away but here we are awaiting another round of matches to be played tomorrow.

However, many fans in are not happy with the way German Federation chose to resume the league.

Bundesliga resumed after a gap of over 60 days with a strict set of protocols. The guidelines ruled out any possibility of fans attending matches in stadiums. The league also issued strict guidelines for the clubs and players to be followed to minimise social contact. But the German fans were irked with the new set of guidelines, which disallowed them from entering the stadiums.

No without fans

German football fans are known for their ultra-supporter groups, passion for the beautiful game and an un parallel display of support and creativity in stadiums.

Last week, ahead of FC Koln’s home game, supporters of the club pasted posters around the city. The posters read, “Money matters more to us than your health”, taking a jibe at the league’s desperation to start the league for revenue from television contract. Later, the supporters placed an actual sofa outside the club’s stadium which read, “Stadium instead of Sofa! Against ghost games!” At another game, fans left banners which said, “Football will survive. Your business is sick!”

Fans clearly don’t like the concept of Geisterspiel or ghost games (matches played behind closed doors). According to media reports, Fanszenen Deutschlands, a national union of ultra groups, said, “It’s an insult to society and particularly to those who are fighting Covid-19. Professional football has long been sick and should still be in quarantine.”

World champion rower from Oliver Ziedler called it “a joke”. He told AFP, “If children cannot go to daycare and caterers are not allowed to use their full capacity, then allowing millionaires on the pitch sends the wrong signal.”

Amid all this, a fact to be noted is that, Sky Deustschland had 6 million viewership (a ratings record) for Dortmund Vs Schalke match.

Then, why there is desperation among the clubs around the world to start as quickly as possible?

Few days ago, Schalke, one of the biggest clubs in the world, wrote to the season ticket holders and asked them to not request for refunds for remaining matches. Because, according to the club, it is facing an “existential economic threat.”

According to Germany’s sports magazine Kicker, 13 of the 36 clubs in Germany’s top 2 divisions, may have to face insolvency if the season does not finish.

But fans are asking, how could a sport, which is the most popular in the world and known for splurging money on buying players, comes to a situation where it cannot survive if the league is stopped for 2 months.

In the last few years, the world has seen Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) spending 222 million euros (nearly Rs 1,900 cr) on Brazilian player Neymar, and another 145 million euros on French sensation Mbappe. Similar money was spent on Ronaldo, Paul Pogba, among others.

“Professional football has much deeper problems,” said Fanszenen Deutschlands. Fans are now asking their clubs to change the economic models to become more sustainable.

Clubs are now too dependent on Television contract money. According to a recent KPMG report on the impact of Covid-19 on the major football leagues of the world. Europe’s top 5 leagues alone will lose 4 billion euros in combined revenue if the season remains unfinished. According to another KPMG report, combined transfer values of players of top 10 European leagues will decline by 10 billion euros if the season remains incomplete, indicating financial difficulties.

These reports indicate why clubs are desperate to get back on field.

Social distance celebrations

While fans complained and clubs remained nervous about their financial position, players had an altogether different experience on the field. There were no handshakes, no team photographs before the game. Players and coaching staff on the bench wore masks while the stadiums were empty. They had to sit with a gap of 1.5 metre.

Watch: Top five goals on matchday 26 and social distancing celebration

But this did not deter Dortmund players from applauding the empty Yellow Wall (Dortmund’s south stand which alone can hold 25,000 standing fans). Bundesliga players did not shake hands or hug each other (those who did were reminded they were not allowed to). They tried to simulate their usual celebrations without getting close and tapped on each other’s boots with their own instead of shaking hands.

The restart of Bundesliga has raised a lot of questions and the onus will be on stakeholders to find solutions so that fans could have a better experience.

First Published: Fri, May 22 2020. 12:00 IST