Proponents of German football’s 50+1 rule were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief on Monday after the Deutsche Fußball-Liga (DFL) communicated that Martin Kind has withdrawn his application to exempt Hannover 96 from the famous financial regulation. Given that Hannover’s president, Kind, has been an investor for more than 20 years, he is eligible to apply for exemption from the rule, which many fans believe is largely responsible for Germany’s thriving fan culture. As per the rule, any entity that has provided substantial financial support to a club for a period of at least 20 years may apply for the right to purchase a stake that would give them majority control (51%) of the club. Only three current Bundesliga clubs are exempt from the 50+1 rule: Bayer Leverkusen (owned by Bayer, the pharmaceutical company), VfL Wolfsburg (owned by Volkswagen), and TSG Hoffenheim (owned by SAP founder Dietmar Hopp). Having received exemption in 2014, the latter is the most recent club to circumvent the rule.
As of yet, it is not entirely clear why Martin Kind has chosen to withdraw his application for exemption. There is speculation that Kind retracted his application because he was made aware that it was likely to be rejected. While it is unlikely to have played a role in his decision, Kind has become the subject of significant fan opposition; after repeatedly voicing his disdain for the 50+1 rule and proving himself to be one of its staunchest opponents, many Hannover 96 fans are rightfully concerned about the preservation of their club as they know it. For nearly two years, there has been a unified campaign, Kind muss weg (Kind must go), which aims to drive away the club’s president and investor in order to preserve the traditional model of member ownership. A number of clubs have expressed solidarity with Hannover fans; among those clubs are FC Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund, Schalke 04, and 1.FC Köln. In a Tuesday meeting attended by roughly 500 active members of Hannover’s fan scene, it was decided that, dependent on the club meeting certain conditions, fans would end their 18 month Stimmungsboykott (atmosphere boycott) and resume supporting their team. Among these conditions is a meeting with club officials, which has been agreed to by both parties and is scheduled for late February.
Implications for the future of the 50+1 rule
Although a review of Martin Kind’s 50+1 exemption application is no longer on the DFL’s agenda, it is highly unlikely that this matter is settled. In its statement regarding the withdrawn application, the DFL expresses that further consideration of the wording and implementation of the rule “appears to be appropriate.” In addition to reassessing the current rule, the DFL states that “the important principles of the beloved football culture in Germany should be enshrined,” while simultaneously expressing the possible benefit of being “open to new development potentialities.”
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