Police costs at soccer games: judges make league pay

The Federal Administrative Court has ruled: Bremen’s law on police costs at soccer matches is legal.

Who pays when hundreds of extra police officers are deployed at a high-risk match? Photo: dpa

Bremen has essentially won its legal battle against the German Football League (DFL). In principle, the DFL must pay fees for high-risk Bundesliga matches in Bremen. Bremen’s law does not violate federal law, the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig has now ruled.

Since 2014, following a change in the law in Bremen, the additional costs for profit-oriented major events (over 5,000 participants), which experience has shown to lead to violence, can be charged to the organizer. For a match between Werder Bremen and Hamburger SV in April 2015, the state demanded 425,000 euros from the DFL. The company filed a lawsuit against the fee notice. Because of its fundamental importance, the Federal Administrative Court now had to rule.

The DFL already considered the Bremen law unconstitutional, but now failed with this objection. The fee regulation was justified because the police were providing a special service that could be distinguished from general danger prevention, emphasized presiding judge Wolfgang Bier. The fee is not required for all Bundesliga games, but only for high-risk games. The DFL also does not have to pay the entire police costs, but only the additional costs. At the Bremen vs. Hamburg match in question, 969 officers were on duty instead of the usual 150.

The organizer does not have to pay the fee because it caused the special police service, but because it has a "special advantage," according to Judge Bier. In the case of high-risk matches, he said, he needs and receives particularly elaborate security precautions. Otherwise, there would be a risk, for example, that spectators would not come to the stadium or that the game would even have to be canceled.

Judge Bier acknowledged that the fees can reach a "considerable" amount. However, he said, they were "not disproportionate" in the First Bundesliga. In the third and fourth leagues or for other sporting and cultural events, the Bremen law could be "interpreted in a restrictive manner."

The case was referred back to the Bremen court only because of one detail

The Leipzig court also approved that the Bremen police demanded the fees from the DFL and not from the local club Werder Bremen. According to Bremen law, if an event has several organizers, the police are free to choose whom to charge.

The case was referred back to the Bremen Higher Administrative Court only because of one detail. The police are not allowed to charge the DFL for the costs that can be claimed back from individual disruptors. However, it is probably only a matter of a few percent of the total amount.

Trigger: Bremen and Hamburg fans clash at Bremen train station in 2015 Photo: dpa

So it will take a few more months. The DFL and the other federal states have thus gained time. DFL President Reinhard Rauball said after the Leipzig ruling that he would first wait for the Bremen proceedings and then discuss further action with the clubs. Only then will the DFL decide whether to appeal the rulings to the Federal Constitutional Court. In any case, the DFL will seek reimbursement of the police fees from Werder Bremen – but this will probably only be partially successful, since the DFL is undoubtedly a co-organizer of the Bundesliga.

Bremen’s Interior Senator Ulrich Maurer (SPD) called on the DFL to start talks immediately. He proposes a fund for police costs into which all clubs would pay, regardless of the local legal situation, "so that we don’t get any distortions of competition.

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