The 50+1 rule is the beating heart of football, according to the chair of the one of the biggest supporters organisations in Europe. Given the discussions currently going on there, it would be easy to assume it’s a German supporters group we’re thinking of but that’s incorrect.
Representing 26 football clubs, 48 fan organisations and over 50,000 individual supporters, the Svenska Fotbollssupporterunionen (SFSU) is seen as a key stakeholder in Swedish football by the football authorities and supporters, and successfully campaigned to retain their country’s 50+1 regulation in 2012.
We’ve heard a lot of talk about it recently but what exactly is 50+1? In basic terms, it’s a regulation that states members should own or control 50% of the shares of their club, plus one share. In effect, it means members – or supporters – have significant influence within their football club and a right to be part of decision-making processes.
This involvement right at the heart of their club is both entirely natural and hugely important to Swedish supporters, and the rule – combined with strong and respectful relationships with the league (SEF) and their football association (SvFF) – are key drivers behind the growth in popularity of the game in Sweden in recent years.
In December 2016, as part of the Takkula Report, the European Parliament said that it “considers the ownership model whereby club members retain control of the club (through the 50+1 rule) as good practice in the EU” and encouraged member states, sports governing bodies, national federations and leagues to start “a constructive dialogue” around the model.
However, if the model is considered best practice at the very highest level in Europe, why is it seemingly under pressure? In one word: money. According to German magazine Kicker, the turnover of Bundesliga clubs, at €3.3 billion, is the second highest in Europe and yet one of the arguments for a review of the 50+1 rule is to allow more investment.
The DFL has called for a debate around the regulation following Martin Kind’s withdrawn attempt to take control of Hannover 96. Supporters submitted a lengthy 50-page document outlining why they believed Kind did not meet the “exemption” requirements, which allow a long-time, significant commercial sponsor of the club take a larger shareholding.
Sweden, too, faced such a challenge. SFSU were first made aware that the 50+1 rule was coming under pressure from commercial organisations looking to invest and gain control in some of their sports clubs back in 2012.
The Swedish Sports Confederation (RF) is the umbrella organisation for all sports in Sweden with 71 different federations involved, and it was at the RF AGM in 2012 that the 50+1 rule was first queried.
SFSU and its members responded with an organised campaign in the Spring of 2012, including a documentary on Swedish TV, a sustained media campaign, as well as banners and demonstrations at clubs and stadiums – all guided by a dedicated 50+1 taskforce within the supporters organisation.
SvFF announced it was in favour of removing the regulation in 2014, putting considerable influence and effort into their position. SFSU fought back in the most appropriate way – by activating grassroots democracy and having their members put forward motions supporting 50+1 within their own respective clubs. Those motions were widely successful and with the clubs then on side, SvFF had no choice but to change their position and respect their members’ wishes.
The 2014 RF AGM was shown live on Swedish TV and after a long debate, the sentiment around the regulation was clear: not only should it be retained, it should not be questioned again in the foreseeable future.
“50+1 is the foundation in Swedish football,” Sofia Bohlin, chair of SFSU said. “It’s what gives us, as members, the opportunity to get engaged in our clubs and it’s the rule that allows members to make decisions in their club. It’s the heartbeat in football, in the clubs and in sport (in Sweden) in general.”
Like Germany, there are also clubs that skirt the 50+1 rule in Sweden. The money to be made in football today means commercial considerations do gain traction at times but when those pressures are countered by a vibrant supporter culture, more inclusion in the stands, and local communities with a meaningful and lasting connection to their football clubs, we are reminded what the game has always stood for throughout history: the people involved.
Masih Khedri, AIK and SFSU, said: “The 50+1 rule is important because I believe football should remain democratic. You should have the opportunity to influence your club. Everybody should be involved not only in the stands, but also in the running of their clubs.
“Football has been inclusive for a long time and I hope it remains that way with help from the 50+1 rule. Money shouldn’t run football – the foundation should be democracy.”
SFSU is currently preparing a new campaign to remind supporters and football authorities of how integral the 50+1 rule is to Swedish football, and SD Europe looks forward to seeing those plans in action in the coming months.
“The rule is your identity as a football supporter,” said Thelma Ernst, chair of MFF Support, the official supporters club of Malmö FF. “As a supporter of the best team in Sweden, I can say I would exchange any club achievement to keep my membership and to keep the rights that come with it. It’s more important than all the gold medals (league titles).”
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