Dissension in Germany; Commentary on the State of German American football

There is backlash in Germany following the nation’s omission from the 2018 Men’s European Championships. As a result, polarizing reactions rippled through the international American football community, most notably in a statement issued by the German federation (AFVD) regarding international Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling on March 1.

Germany is the reigning European American football champion, yet will not compete in this summer’s tournament in Helsinki, Finland.

Why? Politics, of course.

Writer Markus Schulz of the German American football website, american-football.com, published an editorial last week, offering his critical opinion of the stance taken by the American Football Federation of Germany (AFVD) in their manifesto-style statement published on March 3.

The views presented by Schulz do not necessarily represent the views of American Football International. However, we were sent this from many of our sources in Germany and are compelled to reprint it here. It has been translated by Leon Häfner.

The European championship in 2018 will take place without the defending champion, Germany. It is the temporary end of a global sized power struggle – with the AFVD coming out as losers.

A commentary by Markus Schulz

It is finally done! The German American Football Federation (AFVD) has managed to place itself, and thus German American football, on the sidelines internationally.  The European championship, originally planned to be held in Germany, will now take place in Finland. And all without any German participation, without the reigning champion.

This situation was preceded by an international power struggle within the world’s football federation, IFAF. But instead of accepting the ruling of the CAS and recognizing New York as the newly determined headquarters of the federation, the AFVD, with its president Robert Huber, is presenting a declaration of principle of the “European sport system”. In this statement the federation, responsible for over 63,000 members, entrenches itself behind such honorable task as fighting against doping and accuses IFAF of operating an organized gaming operation, offering players and coaches services for money and implies that the world’s federation, based on the American sport system, has modeled itself after capitalist companies.

But what is really left from the “European sport system”? While almost every European federation has managed to join IFAF New York, the AFVD is still sulking in the corner. It smells like loss of power on the international level and the German federation will not let this happen without a fight.

Despite this, the influence of the AFVD had actually been inclining over the past couple of years. Huber and his Swedish colleague Tommy Wiking (who, by the way, had been the president of IFAF Paris for a long time) had a lot of power. But then the world championship fiasco in 2015 happened, resulting in its cancellation and relocation from Sweden to the United States. Wiking had announced a major event but then had to sheepishly admit that his federation was not up to his huge task merely half a year before it was supposed start. As a result, Wiking resigned as the President of the world federation, before not knowing anything about his resignation a day after. But the CAS voided this resignation from the initial resignation this spring, thus tremendously reducing the power of IFAF Paris and its members.

Among those members is the AFVD, which seemingly is not able to cope with this loss of power and influence. Instead they “favor the European sport system”, a model that only Germany and its Italian counterpart pursue amongst the all of the big European federations. This raises the question of how the German nation team will be handled under such constellations. The reigning champion, along with its fans, will be forced to watch as Finland, Sweden, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Austria and France will be battling for the European crown this summer. The significance of such an invitational tournament with the defending champion and the qualified Italy is highly questionable.

Meanwhile, the AFVD has gotten back to its day to day business and announced that the 2018 German Bowl, once witnessed by a live audience of 30,000 at the Hamburger Volkspark, will once again be held at dull Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Stadion in Berlin for a seventh consecutive time in October. The game will be broadcast live on Sport1. (German Link) The federation is fleeing to the cozy world of the GFL, the poster child of European club football. Here, the AFVD is still the boss of its own company.

But all that glitters is not gold. How many of those glorious teams of the past had to be defunct due to financial reasons? The Hamburg Blue Devils, the Mönchengladbach Mavericks, the Cologne Falcons, just to name a few. In the meantime, the AFVD is doing great and is still not satisfied. In 2013, the AFVD complained to the administrative court in Cologne (German Link) about federal funding from the German Ministry of the Interior. The verdict (German Link) would have shattered the federation in its deepest core, but because the sport gathers almost no media attention in Germany, the AFVD was able to sweep this suit under the rug, without rarely anyone knowing of the trial let alone the verdict.

The court dismissed the case citing a lack of need to fund American football in Germany. It justified its ruling by stating that the federation possessed enough financial resources while simultaneously not using them. The AFVD had 580,000€ to its disposal in 2013. 31,647.67€  were used for organized game operations, while the athletes themselves had to pay 60,955€ to the federation. Walter Reiterer summarized the CAS verdict with his commentary “End of Game” (German Link) on football-austria.com in this way: “The German football federation was told that its officials were earning so much money that one has to suggest German football does not need funding.” To say it differently: The AFVD is working perfectly well as a self-service store for its officials. The sport itself seems only like a means to an end.

But where is the resistance from the base? Where are the enraged players who risk their health during countless practices and games that they play without getting paid? Where are the volunteers that work for the clubs and regional associations, who do this job for the love of the game while the high horses make money from them? Huber has held the power of German football as president for two decades. The development of football in Germany during his tenure? Rising numbers in members and clubs – despite this, football is still a niche sport in Germany and plays absolutely no role in the eyes of the media, a boom thanks to a television presence of the football flagship NFL notwithstanding. Their interest in this growth isn’t huge – if it were, the federation would have had to give something up in return: tasks, dates, influence, maybe even money. Meanwhile, the federation is glad that a company named German Football Partners is marketing the GFL. Who is its CEO you may ask? Robert Huber. Imagine the mighty German Football [soccer] Association (DFB) marketing the rights of the DFB-Cup using a company represented by the DFB president.

He wouldn’t be in charge for a long time.

Not in football. Flying under the radar of both the public and the media, no one expects any kind of investigative journalism.  The only German magazine “Huddle” merely functions as the “official newsletter of the AFVD”.  Don’t expect critical article about the procedures within the federation from those guys, rather courtyard reporting. In the best case scenario, nothing. Nobody wants to wake a sleeping dragon.

[Editor’s Note:  HUDDLE, is not the official newsletter of the AFVD, but a German magazine that includes statutory notices of the AFVD which are outside of their editorial responsibility.]

The AFVD is now comfortably resting on the backs of players and coaches, creating a wellness oasis for itself.

Based on the number of messages AFI has received regarding this commentary, it would seem that there is a growing wave of opinion on this topic in Germany and the rest of Europe.

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