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Jan 21, 2016

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Promoting a more positive image of supporters in Germany

Under the regulations of the German Football League (DFL) every Bundesliga club is required to employ at least two full-time SLOs.

Elsewhere, SLOs are deployed by clubs down to the fourth tier and beyond. Together, the German Football Association (DFB) and the DFL also fund more than 50 socio-pedagogical fan projects, having substantially increased the budget two years ago. The number of violent incidents in German football has been falling for many years. There is still room for improvement, however, especially in the relationship between the police and supporters.

Funded by the Daniel Nivel Foundation, a series of ‘future workshops’ is helping to break down barriers. The aim is to encourage dialogue between police and supporter representatives well away from the stadium and the rituals of matchday. DFB general secretary Helmut Sandrock opened the last workshop before Euro 2016 in Nürnberg and in an interview with the DFB website talked about his experience and a basic idea that works.

DFB.de: Mr Sandrock, some 75 police officers, supporters, SLOs and fan project leaders gathered in Nürnberg for talks. Were they good talks?

HS: I like the method behind these workshops. It’s always beneficial to bring the network partners together in a process of dialogue, though I regret that no representatives of ultra groups were willing to attend. The procedure has definitely proved its worth, however. All police representatives attend in normal clothing. First, both sides are able to give direct criticism. Here, a match commander from Nürnberg and supporters club chairmen from Munich and Düsseldorf expressed very clear criticism of the other side. This criticism is initially allowed to stand, there is no reflex taking up of a counterargument. Everyone listens to each other and lets the words sink in. In break-out sessions the participants then try to draft an ideal alternative situation. They develop a utopian view of how police can football fans can coexist. After that they work on producing practical solutions.

DFB.de: Despite the falling number of incidents and a structure for working with supporters that is exemplary on the European level, both police and supporters sometimes complain about the relationship between them. What’s the reason for this?

HS: It’s difficult to explain. The number of violent spectators at football matches is certainly very, very small. We sometimes see protest behaviour, especially among young fans, which is perhaps typical of that age group and expresses itself in confrontation with the police., This goes beyond football. It’s a society phenomenon. Ultra groups repeatedly take a stance on social issues, often in exemplary fashion – take, for example, their involvement in donor drives and the displays in memory of the former Jewish president of Bayern Munich. At the same time, however, there has been repeated use of pyrotechnics, especially by ultra groups. While we’re more than happy to engage in dialogue, three topics are non-negotiable: pyro, racism and violence. We still see too many transgressions. We have to talk about it, there’s no other effective approach.

DFB.de: In view of the statistically low number of incidents at matches the image football supporters have is surprising. Does their not always positive reputation annoy you?

HS: I think the image of football fans among the public comes across too negatively. We shouldn’t make the mistake of tarring everyone with the same brush. Supporters are and will remain a very important part of football. Clubs, leagues and the DFB have to work together on promoting a more positive picture of the fans of our game. I know from personal experience about the great things fans do for their clubs in the community, for example. At the same time, we have to remember that unfortunately there are a few who ensure that this positive image of supporters often comes across badly. Sometimes I wish there’d be more self-reflection and self-regulation among fans.

-ENDS-

Under Article 35 of the UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations, clubs across Europe are required to appoint a Supporter Liaison Officer (SLO) to ensure proper and constructive discourse between them and their fans. The SLO project originated in 2009 as a result of detailed talks between UEFA and SD Europe. It was approved by the UEFA Executive Committee in 2010, with SD Europe appointed to manage its implementation across UEFA’s 54 member associations. If you would like to learn more, visit the SLO section on the SD Europe website, follow the official SLO account on twitter or get directly in touch via slo@supporters-direct.coop.

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