What would football be without the fans? The empty stands at the so-called “ghost games” are a reminder of the importance of fan culture. The people in the stadiums and at home in front of the TV sets provide the human element of the sport. They create community, passion, emotion.

The founders of the initiative “Unser Fußball” (Our Football) are aware of this and have used it as a lever to make demands on German professional football.

According to a declaration, which has since been signed by 2,663 fan clubs representing a total of around half a million fans, German football is to become “close to the grassroots, sustainable and contemporary.”

In addition to fair competition between large and small clubs and more democratic structures, Unser Fußball also calls for the sport to fulfil its function as a role model and act in a more ecologically sustainable manner.

Commitment to the Paris Agreement

“There is a broad fan base that is calling for a change in values in football,” said Manuel Gaber, spokesperson for the initiative, in an interview with EURACTIV Germany.

This also applies to sustainability. Triggered by the eFan initiative, ‘Unsere Kurve’ (Our Stands), the project ‘Zukunft Profifußball’ (Future Professional Football) is currently creating a new catalogue of demands on German football, based on Gabers’ statement. A separate working group was dedicated to ecological responsibility.

This working group has now published its results.

German football (specifically the umbrella organisations German Football League (DFL) and German Football Federation (DFB), as well as the clubs themselves) should commit themselves to comply with the Paris Climate Protection Agreement.

For this purpose, they should draw up obligatory CO2 balances and compensate unavoidable emissions as well as unify minimum standards for environmental management and disclose supply chains for merchandising products.

To tackle the biggest climate problem on the football pitch – mobility – climate-friendly concepts are to be developed in which everyone has a say: clubs, fans and traffic.

“Surprisingly little has happened on the part of clubs and associations,” Gaber said.

Climate protection has long been an issue in football, but so far only some individual clubs are taking action. Some are banning disposable cups from their stadiums. Others are offering guarded bicycle stands, and Mainz 05 is even the first German CO2-neutral club.

But this patchwork approach will not work in the long run says Gaber, who calls for uniform rules.

A role model

“Absurdly small things are strictly regulated, such as the fact that every second-division stadium needs a roof – so why not in environmental protection,” he asked.

That would also be in the spirit of fair competition: climate protection measures cost the clubs money, but if all clubs had to follow suit, there would be no disadvantage.

The obligatory CO2-balances would be a first important step to manufacture comparability and to know where one actually stands. So far, this has only been done voluntarily, for example at VfL Wolfsburg.

Gaber would regulate so that all stadium tickets are also valid as tickets for public transport. While this is already widespread, “FC Bayern, for example, has still not done it,” he says.

Higher standards should also apply when it comes to procuring merchandise or equipment.

“Football can do a lot of things here,” Gaber said. It could raise awareness among fans who might otherwise never turn to fair trade.

Football clubs are also major customers of manufacturers like Adidas or Nike, whose factories are often located in countries with low labour standards. If these major customers were to demand fairer conditions or threaten to change suppliers, this would exert pressure, say campaigners.

Table football

These demands will be incorporated into the DFL’s current reform process. A task force there is preparing proposals for reforms of the league, also in the area of sustainability.

In addition to the DFL and clubs, politicians will also be represented on the task force, for example by former SPD leader Martin Schulz and Cem Özdemir of the Greens.

There will also be six fans at the table. Manuel Gaber is one of them. This will be his platform to translate the demands of ‘Zukunft Profifußball’ into reality.

The discussion starts in October, and the proposals should be ready by the end of the year.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]