Last week, FSE spoke to Dachverband der Fanhilfen e.V., a German umbrella organisation that brings together legal fan aid groups from all over the country and stands up for fans’ rights.
FSE: Why did fans begin organising legal aid?
On a local level, there were several different motives. However, there was no decisive event or something similar that caused fans to begin self-organising in legal matters. Increasingly disproportionate repression by the state and football authorities certainly played a significant role.
In our opinion, there is a clear tendency on the part of the state and football authorities to harass and punish football fans more and more outside of stadia, but also through criminal and administrative proceedings. Examples of this include bans on entering cities or certain areas, the imposition of fines on individual football fans, and measures to revoke driving licenses due to supposedly inappropriate behaviour at football matches.
FSE: Why did you decide to create a national umbrella group to tackle this issue?
There had already been nationwide cooperation between legal fan aid groups for several years, including regular joint meetings to exchange information, experiences, and good practice. This led, quite naturally, to the idea of combining this expertise and these resources into a more solid structure, with the specific aim of making the voice of fans more audible to the public.
Forming an umbrella group was, then, a result of the progressive professionalisation of fan aid work. To date, 19 legal fan aid groups from across Germany have come together, and we are confident that more will join us in the future.
FSE: What is the division of responsibilities and labour between local fan aid groups and the national organisation?
The annual general meeting is the highest body within the national organisation. The general meeting elects a board of directors, which is made up of people from different locations, and proposes basic strategy and priorities. Different subjects and issues are overseen by working groups.
In general, the national organisation proceeds with topics and requests that are brought up by local groups, and which have relevance to fans across the country. These are then addressed collectively. The organisation was founded first and foremost to bring together local groups and to promote the rights of football fans in the public discourse. The day-to-day work continues to take place independently at the local level, however.
FSE: For some time now, there has been an association of lawyers dedicated to representing football fans in Germany—the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Fananwälte. Do you share any aims?
There are many potential similarities, especially as some of the fan lawyers in the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Fananwälte are also active in local fan aid groups. But we do not see ourselves as merely representing the interests of football fans. Rather, we also aim to work together with other stakeholders to strengthen civil rights in general.
FSE: What common problems have you observed in different federal states?
That is difficult to answer. It varies from location to location, and depends on the local political context, as well as the clubs and police involved. The social status of football in the respective state also plays an important role, as does the relative benefit of politicians posing as representatives of “law and order” to win votes. Differences can also be seen in the police laws of each state, amendments to which, in our view, partially violate the law. These amendments are being challenged in many states by fan support networks in cooperation with broad social alliances.
FSE: What have been your main achievements so far?
We are a new organisation, so we cannot (yet) lay claim to any. We also do not want to claim credit for the successes of local fan aid groups. These local successes include however compensation payments in the case of unlawful and disproportionate police interventions or mass detentions, successful appeals against bans from entering cities or certain areas on match day, corrections to inaccurate reports in the media, and acquittals for fans involved in criminal proceedings. Without such successes, we would have probably not been founded.
FSE: What do you envisage being the main challenges for fans in the future when it comes to security? And what impact has the pandemic had on these challenges?
We do not need to look far into the future. It is already clear, in terms of surveillance, that George Orwell’s 1984 is fast approaching. Once again, amendments to police laws must be mentioned because they allow monitoring of fan marches by drones, as well as the use of spy software, even within an individual’s own home and against uninvolved third parties such as friends, family or neighbours.
In this respect, the pandemic poses a clear danger to football fans by opening the door to further violations of fundamental rights, as has been demonstrated by recurring demands for personalised tickets from various politicians.
For us, it is important that the lifting of restrictions on fundamental rights must, of course, apply to stadium attendance as well as soon as the pandemic no longer endangers the general public. We will strongly demand this.
FSE: Are you in touch with fans from other countries?
The nationwide cooperation of legal fan aid groups has for some years extended to Austria, via Rapid Vienna´s fans local organisation. Further international networking is limited to individual initiatives by local groups.
It must be noted that the legal conditions for interfering with civil liberties vary greatly within the European Union (EU), which makes it difficult to draw useful comparisons. But we will make sure that ID cards from Poland and Greece will not be introduced in Germany.
FSE: What does the future hold for you?
We would rather shine with our actions than with words and statements. But we can at least predict for the near future that we will, for example, continue to deal with the non-transparent personal data storage practice of the so-called Datei Gewalttäter Sport, or Sport Violent Offender File. Moreover, we would like to assist local fan aid groups in enhancing their work and connections with one another.
Another challenge will be press and public relations work, which shall serve to make fans’ voices heard and to draw attention to the topics of repression, police violence, and surveillance in football and wider society.