German football continues to be on hold in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In an interview with DFB.de, DFB General Secretary Dr. Friedrich Curtius provides an update on where things stand and speaks about solidarity between players, clubs and leagues.
DFB.de: You recently mentioned how important it is for society to remain united. How do you view football these days as a part of this society?
Dr. Friedrich Curtius: I see a football community that is plagued by the same uncertainty facing the rest of society. The world is currently facing an unknown challenge, as well as the question of “How do we defeat the coronavirus?” This has an effect on all of our lives, as well as on football and the DFB. The football community would like to do its part to help prevent the virus from spreading further. That was the reason why we decided to put all training sessions and games on hold. That’s nearly 80,000 matches per weekend. At the same time, we also want to be prepared for when we are able to return to playing football again and for when things return to normal. From my perspective, the DFB, DFL and the various regional and state associations, along with the clubs, have been very focused and unified while working together.
DFB.de: At the same time, various players and clubs have also taken action that further supports this feeling of unity.
Curtius: Yes, and it’s very impressive to see. They range from small to big gestures - including our national team, who announced last week that they would be donating €2.5 million. This kicked off a chain-reaction of further donations, with several other star athletes contributing financially to the fight against the coronavirus. Several members from amateur clubs have also gotten involved, for example, by offering to go to the shops to help seniors and others who are at a high risk of infection. This goes to show the solidarity and the compassion football players have for others.
DFB.de: How important was it to see the unanimous support to postpone the EUROs until next summer?
Curtius: That was extremely important. During the video conference, I saw how relieved UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin was after the decision was made. The member associations were unanimous in voting to take this step; FIFA also voted in support of it. Of course, it was a difficult decision to make but unfortunately it was the only option available, given the current situation. We know that we are all in the same boat and that we all have a responsibility to the sport and to all those it involves as well.
DFB.de: What is the DFB doing to meet this responsibility it owes to the clubs and leagues?
Curtius: We want to do whatever we can in order to help. That’s why we immediately set about finding out what we are allowed to do both legally and financially. Our treasurer, Dr. Stephan Osnabrügge spoke at length about that in an interview. We aren’t allowed to provide any direct donations to clubs, but we told the state associations that we would be flexible in paying out the annual dividends to them. Some installments were only due to be paid out in the second half of the year, but we will start paying them out immediately in those areas where they are needed, something that we have already started doing. In this manner, we are helping to relieve some of the stress facing the state associations. At the same time, we are also working on ensuring that the clubs in the 3. Liga, as well as in the FLYERALARM women’s Bundesliga are able to weather this crisis. Here, we are confronted with several tough legal and financial restrictions which make it impossible for the DFB to provide loans or grants. However, we are working hard to come up with different mechanisms to allow us to support these clubs.
DFB.de: As a senior employee, what perspective do you have on the work the DFB is doing at this time?
Curtius: I’m very proud of everything that is currently happening here. I haven’t heard any complaints or had anyone hand in a resignation. It’s the exact opposite: I’ve received so many personal messages from colleagues that help to give me strength. The overwhelming message is that we want to weather this crisis together, and that we will manage to do so together.
DFB.de: What is the DFB doing in order to help prevent the virus from spreading?
Curtius: As I mentioned previously, we’ve postponed all matches until further notice. None of us have ever experienced something like this before, but at the moment, there’s no other option. At the same time, our employees - with the exception of a small skeleton crew - have been working from home for the last week and a half. That helps ease the current situation a bit, and I’m very grateful to our IT employees for their support.
DFB.de: Four weeks ago - relatively early on - you formed a task force aimed at dealing with the coronavirus topic. Who is taking part in this? How much does having such a task force help you distribute the tasks at hand?
Curtius: It was a good decision to create this task force so early on. It allowed us to react quickly to the developments in the early stages of the situation. Alongside our president, Fritz Keller, the group is made up of various representatives from the DFL and regional associations, as well as some from the DFB headquarters. It also includes our medical commissioner and the national team doctor, Prof. Dr. Tim Meyer, who brings a wealth of expertise to the table. We have a daily teleconference at 8:30 CET, where we discuss current information, synchronize our actions and make concrete decisions. That’s how we were able to make the decision relatively early on to postpone matches in the 3. Liga and to do the same in every state. This collaboration has paid off and it is of great assistance. Everyone wants to do their part.
DFB.de: Are there any lessons you’ve learned during this time?
Curtius: Remaining humble in the face of a situation that I could never have imagined previously. Also, remaining flexible. What may be the right decision today, could no longer be the case tomorrow. Accepting that has been the hardest challenge not just for myself personally, but for the organisation as a whole. That makes it even more important that football stands united from the top to the bottom.
DFB.de: What are the most urgent topics of concern to both you and the DFB?
Curtius: It’s crucial that our healthcare system be able to handle the stress of this pandemic, and all of us can help in that regard by following the advice of medical professionals and practicing social distancing. Additionally, everyone needs to be aware of what’s happening, and we are trying to set a good example in that regard. However, as I said, we also need to be prepared for when we are able to play again and to organise all the games accordingly. Currently, no one knows when that will be and how it will look like. I also see differences between the professional and amateur leagues, because professional football will depend on playing matches behind closed doors. There is no other solution. It’s not just about money. We also can’t underestimate the power football has to give people hope and to entertain, even in trying times such as these.
DFB.de: Can you list any concrete examples of how the current situation has impacted the work the DFB does?
Curtius: There is no aspect of our work that hasn’t been affected by this. The most prominent example is definitely our men’s national team, whose matches against Italy and Spain have been cancelled. This has wide-ranging consequences, both in terms of organisation and financially, in the same manner that postponing the EUROs does. Legally, financially, personally, organisationally, digitally, communication, matchdays - all these areas are facing significant challenges.
DFB.de: Will this also impact the construction of the new DFB headquarters and the academy?
Curtius: At this moment, construction is still going to plan. We are in constant communication with the team leading the project and our general contractor, Groß & Partner. The construction of a new headquarter is a milestone project for us, as we are building the future of the DFB. Even here we owe our partners certain dues, as they are counting on the DFB keeping its promises. As a result, as long as it is reasonably possible and safe, we will continue work on this project.
DFB.de: Is the DFB considering cutting hours at all?
Curtius: We will need to keep an eye on this topic, more so for the future rather than at the present time. It will depend on how this crisis develops. Of course, we are hoping that we will not have to resort to this. We also mentioned this to all our employees during a digital conference.
DFB.de: Can you offer a prediction as to what impacts this crisis will have on the future of football?
Curtius: I’m convinced that if the footballing community handles this topic responsibly, that it will be even stronger when it is all over. If we continue to take action, as many players and clubs have already done, while continuing to show solidarity and making crucial decisions as a unit, then I think people will be even more happy when we finally return to playing again. But, there’s still a lot of work for us to do before we get to that point.