The SFSA at Football Supporters Europe’s Annual Congress

Date: 4th August 2022

Last weekend, representatives from the SFSA travelled to Frankfurt for the annual Fans Congress of Football Supporters Europe, the umbrella organisation for all of Europe’s national supporters’ organisations. This event provided the SFSA with the perfect opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of fan led initiatives from around the continent, while also contributing to discussions which will go on to shape the nature of the European fan’s movement.

It is our belief that transparency is one of the most key components in maintaining the relationships between footballing organisations and supporters. With this in mind, we have taken the time to put together this short summary of the weekend’s events to keep our members and other supporters as informed as is possible.

Friday

After travelling to Germany on the day before, our representatives arrived early at Rierderwald, the home of Eintracht Frankfurt’s fan department for the beginning of the congress.

After hearing opening addresses from several members of the FSE board, Oleg Soldatenko of the Ukrainian Supporter’s Embassy, then delivered a sobering talk to those in attendance. Oleg, who was given special government permission to leave Ukraine for the congress, delivered his first-hand account of living through an ongoing conflict. He spoke of some of the harrowing sights he had witnessed but also of the potential escape and joy that football can bring to people, even in the worst of situations. Upon finishing his speech, Oleg was met with a standing ovation from the audience which clearly moved him greatly. His account serves as a reminder to fans across Europe that we must continue to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people and support them wherever possible.

Next up was a talk on the successes of German fandom from those at the very heart of their supporter’s movement. German football is generally seen as world leading in terms of supporter activism and representation and this talk presented the perfect opportunity for fans organisations from around Europe to take note and see what can be learned from their successes. The Frankfurt fan department in particular stood out as they detailed how they hire specialised fan lawyers to attend away matches with the club to ensure the rights of travelling fans are protected. Further to this, they also emphasised the need for managing stewarding standards and building relationships with stewarding companies in order to not only ensure supporters are safe but also that they are treated with respect when attending football matches. Representatives from the national German supporter’s organisation also drew praise for their fan’s declaration, signed by over half a million supporters, which details the account of German football that they wish to see and is now influencing policy in both government and at footballing governing bodies. This provided us with plenty of food for thought as to how we can help to take the Scottish game forward.

The morning continued with several workshop -style sessions, firstly focusing on the future of UEFA competitions. FSE began by describing their enhanced role as an official UEFA stakeholder since the rise and fall of the European Super League and reinforced their position in favour of the status quo in terms of competition formats. Alberto Colombo from the European Leagues Association then spoke of the need for more even UEFA prize money distribution domestically through solidarity payments in order to prevent the erosion of competitive balance from domestic leagues due to some of their members playing in Europe. He also voiced his opposition to prize money being distributed to clubs through the coefficient system based on their historical performance as he felt that this went against the sporting principle of merit.

The second workshop looked at the issue of sexualised violence at football matches. The F+ collective at FSE led this session and spoke of the need for greater measures in stadia to protect supporters from sexualised violence. Borussia Dortmund were pointed out as leading in this regard, having appointed a team of full-time social workers to support fans, and also the creation of contact points and safe spaces around their stadium. Sexualised violence is a problem that exists in every country, including Scotland. We should all look to Dortmund as a role model and lobby our clubs to adopt similar measures to keep everyone safe.

After a quick break for lunch, the congress resumed with a discussion on the future of supporter representation in Europe. This provided FSE with the opportunity to talk to national fans organisations to establish what aspects of the supporter movement should take priority in the coming months. Firstly, FSE spoke of their improved relationship with UEFA which has seen them become a recognised stakeholder of the governing body, representing the views of fans from across the continent. A consensus was then reached with regards to preserving the current model of European football, with the threat of the European Super league still lingering. Member organisations also agreed that more needs to be done to ensure that governing bodies reinforce licensing criteria relating to SLO standards at clubs and disability access to stadia. Lastly, FSE received feedback as to how they can improve their communications with member organisations going forward.

To finish off the day, those in attendance were split back into workshop groups. The first workshop focused on the use of NFT’s and crypto currency by clubs as a means of supporter engagement. This session was led by Joseph D’Urso, a journalist from The Athletic. Despite many supporters lacking knowledge in this area, an increasing number of clubs have been using schemes of this kind to engage with their fanbases and raise additional finance. However, concerns were raised about the fact that such schemes tend to lose value over time. It is clear that more needs to be done to educate fans on NFT’s and crypto within football and that caution should also be advised before investing.

The second workshop examined the issue of supporter’s rights at European away matches. It’s well known that away fans in Europe can at times be treated unjustly by local authorities. Therefore, protecting the rights of supporters is something which should be taken seriously. Once again, the use of dedicated fan lawyers was emphasised and FSE advised member organisations that they have a team of such lawyers at their disposal who are available to help any fan that gets in contact, including those in Scotland. FSE also noted that UEFA incident report forms are now available to supporters who wish to report issues at matches and urged fans to do so in order to see action taken. They also recommended that supporters film incidents where possible to provide evidence of failings by local authorities, clubs or football governing bodies. Please feel free to get in touch with the SFSA if you ever experience any such incidents at football matches on the continent, as we will be able to put you in contact with the relevant people at FSE to see that your situation is resolved.

Saturday

After a networking event on Friday night, followed by a well-earned rest, the SFSA representatives in Frankfurt returned to Rierderwald on Saturday morning. The day began with a further meeting between FSE and its member national fans organisations. During this meeting FSE shared their plans to improve the quality and frequency of their research into the game in order to best equip themselves to campaign for supporter interests. They also spoke of their plans to update their website to make it more user friendly for supporters.

Next up was a session on human rights concerns at the upcoming 2022 World Cup in Qatar and in future tournaments thereafter. The panel was led by Philipp Sohmer, a sports journalist, and featured representatives from Three Lions Pride, FSE, Amnesty International and the Danish national supporter’s organisation. Although potential human rights violations were referenced in relation to construction workers who are helping to build stadia, the main focus was on the right of supporters travelling from Europe to the tournament. Firstly, concerns were voiced about the rights of supporters who are members of the LGBTQI community, with homosexuality remaining prohibited under local law. It was agreed that members of the community would struggle to support their team whilst also being their authentic selves and that therefore Qatar are not suitable hosts, and that FIFA must do more to protect the rights of such supporters. Secondly, the rights of female supporters were discussed as women still do not receive equal rights as men in Qatar. A similar consensus was reached with regards to the role FIFA must take to ensure that the rights of female fans are also protected. FSE also raised their worries about the right of supporters who get into legal trouble whilst at the tournament as Qatar have created a specific World Cup court to prosecute supporters accused of crimes during the tournament. Although Scotland failed to qualify for the tournament, it is important that we show solidarity with fellow nations attending Qatar so that future tournaments aren’t subject to the same human rights concerns.

In the afternoon, the congress finished off with the FSE annual general meeting. Here FSE covered all of their activities since the last meeting, as well as providing an overview of finances. Sofia Bohlin of Sweden was then unanimously elected to join the FSE board, before a series of motions were put to members. Each motion presented was passed by a member vote and focused on sustainability, diversity, fan safety and experience in UEFA club competitions, UEFA revenue distribution and membership communication. Lastly but definitely most significantly of all, members voted in favour of the proposed merger between FSE and Supporters Direct Europe. SD Europe are the continent’s other prominent supporters’ group and primarily focus on topics like community ownership and SLO work. Their members had approved the merger at their AGM the previous week. The merger marks a crucial moment in Europe’s supporter movement as these two organisations will now be able to join forces to pool resources and create the strongest ever collective supporters voice to date in Europe.

 


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