In the controversial debate about the 50+1 rule in German Soccer there’s one thing almost everyone agrees on: it’s a relic. At the end of the 1990s, German football was confronted with the possibility that the good old registered clubs (eV) could be replaced by corporations (GmbH, AG, KGaA) – which displeased the then DFB President Egidius Braun, who later became the managing director of the German Football League (DFL), Wilfried Straub, is supposed to reported later Wolfgang Holzhäuser, who was there for the DFB, said: “Then we’ll do 50 percent plus one vote for the club.” In retrospect, it was one of the most formative sentences in German football.
It was an attempt to start into a new world without leaving the old one, and so the rule still symbolizes the two major perspectives on football to this day. Once the entertainment business with the emphasis on business. Clubs are economic entities that should have economic structures and who could deny that view given the millions in revenue? For the others, however, football is more, in the broadest sense, a social community with values that cannot be reflected in balance sheets and which should therefore – and this is the crucial point – also be controlled by the social community and the members. The “+1” in the 50+1 rule gives the second view one more vote.
However – and this is the point at which both passionate supporters and passionate critics meet – such a drastic rule would have to be consistent. And she’s not. When it was introduced, there was an exception with Bayer 04 Leverkusen, followed by VfL Wolfsburg and TSG Hoffenheim. RB Leipzig is not an official, but a factual exception, which means that four out of 18 Bundesliga clubs, i.e. 22 percent, do not follow the rule. Not only after the criticism of the Federal Cartel Office, which pointed out precisely this grievance, came the suggestion: fairness by abolishing the 50+1 rule. Everyone should be allowed to do what they think is right. And that would make more money.
Windhorst knew beforehand that participation in football cannot simply be bought
But where that leads, you can see in England. Because once sold, the participation and influence is gone and possibly in Saudi Arabia instead of with the AGM ballot holders. Incidentally, they could theoretically already put their fate in the hands of an investor. Lars Windhorst, for example, could advertise his vision of a new Hertha in Berlin – and if the majority of the members like that, then everything is fine. But she doesn’t. Windhorst knew before his 374 million euro investment that you can’t just buy participation in football. Like maybe even Hasan Ismaik at TSV 1860 Munich – the mother of all club-versus-investor disputes, if you don’t want to call the dispute between Hannover 96 and Martin Kind that.
The 50+1 rule undoubtedly creates contradictions, and hardly anyone denies that it is an anachronism in a thoroughly capitalized system. And of course it is not pleasant as a person in charge to deal with an opposition that does not like Qatar sponsorship, for example. But at its core, it is nothing less than a democratic process that the 50+1 rule obliges football to follow and which gives it social legitimacy far beyond that of a commercial enterprise. Not bad for a relic.