DFL to harden ‘50+1’ rule to protect German clubs from investor predators

March 9 – Germany’s football league (DFL) wants to tighten rules to stop investors taking full control of clubs.

Under the existing ’50+1′ rule, unique to Germany and much admired across Europe, clubs cannot compete in the Bundesliga if commercial investors have more than a 49% stake – in contrast to other major European leagues where clubs can change hands relatively easily.

Supporters of the 50+1 rule insist it protects German clubs from the sort of dubious takeovers seen abroad. The German model is particularly lauded by fans who have a major say in how their clubs are run.

The problem is some clubs are excused, in particular Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim and Bayer Leverkusen so the DFL has submitted a proposal to ensure no future exemptions are granted.

Leverkusen and Wolfsburg are exceptions because their investors have had an interest in the clubs for more than 20 years.

In Hoffenheim’s case, the major benefactor Dietmar Hopp has substantial financial commitment to the club’s grassroots activities as well as his funding professional and amateur football in Germany.

“There shall be no exemptions offered in the future from the 50+1 rule,” said the DFL.

Ironically Hoffenheim is heading back into full compliance with the 50+1 rule after Hopp announced last week he is returning his voting rights.

“It was never about power for me,” said Hopp, who co-founded German software giant SAP. “Our special status was never used to undermine or avoid this regulation. The 50+1 regulation, which I have always supported, is a high asset in German football.”

Not everyone agrees, however. Critics of the rule say it discourages clubs from competing on a level playing field with rich overseas counterparts.

Former Bayern Munich CEO Uli Hoeness recently called for the DFB to scrap the rule to allow for further outside investment.

Speaking on behalf of Bayern, Hoeness said: “We would be totally in favour of scrapping the 50+1 because we are falling behind internationally.”

Bayern has nevertheless lifted the Champions League trophy twice in the last decade.

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