B.A.F.F. – Bündnis aktiver Fußballfans (Association of Active Football Fans) – an interview

B.A.F.F. is a nationwide association of fan initiatives and football clubs, which, in addition to campaigns against commercialism and for the maintenance of standing room areas in stadiums, also deals with the racism encountered daily in German stadiums.

We interviewed Christos Figas of B.A.F.F. on the work of the association …

What is B.A.F.F. and how long has the club been active?

B.A.F.F. was founded in 1993 by fans from 15 different football clubs. The original name was »Bündnis antifaschistischer Fanclubs und Faninitiativen« (Association of Antifascist Fan Clubs and Fan Initiatives). This name was changed in 1998 to »Association of Active Football Fans«. This was a not uncontroversial name change, but we wanted to become more open to the other fan scenes. Our political ambitions, however, were not abandoned: in our Declaration of Principles, and later in our Association Rules, the following statement was made: »B.A.F.F. actively opposes xenophobia, racism, discrimination and sexism when they occur in the context of football games.«

How are you organized and how do you arrange club-internal communication?

We’ve been a legally recognized club since 1998. We are currently trying to get legal status as an organization for the public good (Gemeinnützigkeit), because we could then receive financial support for our exhibit, Tatort Stadion (Crime-scene: stadium).(1)

B.A.F.F. currently comprises 140 individual members who are mostly St. Pauli fans [St. Pauli is a traditionally leftist football club in Hamburg], and 20 groups organized as sponsors. Regional grouping come and go, but our summer and winter meetings always take place. General membership meetings mostly take place in the summer at the Fan Congress, which is open to the interested public. The Fan Congresses have always been a big attraction and have sometimes brought together over 300 participants. Communication takes the form of a half-yearly circular sent out to members and, starting this year, we have a very active mailing list with about 70 active members.

Are you a nationwide organization?

Are there regional groups or are members organized at a local level in fan clubs? Our members are mostly those activists, who are most active in their respective fan clubs. For the most part, they are from fan initiatives against the political right or from progressive fanzines, whose total circulation, by the way, exceeds 20,000 copies per issue nationwide. But we deal with the issues on a nationwide basis. We work through campaigns. Exclusive B.A.F.F. groups, whose members only work with B.A.F.F., don’t exist. Local activities are more important for everyone than working in B.A.F.F.’s name. The B.A.F.F. logo, however, can be found on many homepages and in lots of fanzines. And by demonstrating affiliation with B.A.F.F., we’re clearly showing whose side we’re on.

Gibt es Verbindungen zu anderen Organisationen?

Yes, there’s a connection to FARE, a European network of several different European groups and organizations working against racism in football. Dependence on or support of political parties or similar organizations is looked upon with great skepticism.

The UEFA award was given to FARE. Does that have consequences for B.A.F.F.?

As far as the UEFA award goes, we expect to profit from it next year; the prize money will be distributed to the active organizations in the network.

What European groups do you have contact to?

We have especially strong connections with Italy and England. In Italy we cooperate with Progetto Ultra in Bologna and in England with the FSA (Football Supporter Association)

How does cooperation at the European level work? Are there joint projects?

The exhibition, »Tatort Stadion« (Crime-scene: stadium), is to an extent, a European project, at least as regards financial support and the support of our European »partners«. We were also able to contribute something to the antiracist football exhibition in Manchester, when that was being shown, and B.A.F.F. activists were present at the first Italian nation-wide Ultra meeting and reported on the »German experience« concerning the organization of people from different fan scenes. Groups of B.A.F.F. activists were also involved in FARE’s campaign against racism this spring, using stickers and banners, and organizing events.

What issues does B.A.F.F. deal with?

Most of our work is directed against racism and commercialization, and for the maintenance of standing room areas – the ultimate expression of fan culture. In all three of these areas, we’ve been able to see some success. In that sense, however, BAFF’s must be understood as a lobbying effort. Through good connections and an understanding of how to use their own media, like fanzines and homepages, a few people can create quite a stir, and motivate and mobilize others.

As far as racism goes, some clubs have introduced a so-called antiracist paragraph in the stadium or club rules, and events have been organized with players, fans and officials. The motto, »Sowieso-Fans« against the Right, has become an integral part, in the form of stickers or banners, of the fan scene.
As regards the issue of commercialization, our recent call for a Premiere/Decoder boycott got nationwide attention. And even a little concrete success: The Kirch Media Group was forced to scale down their commercial ambitions somewhat.

As regards the trend away from standing room and towards seating areas, there are also some successes that we would not have dared to dream of a few years ago. In Hamburg, Nurnberg, Schalke, and in many other clubs, standing-room areas have been maintained despite UEFA’s directive to the contrary. In new arenas, this was done for the most part in consultation with the fan scene. Convertible standing-room areas were constructed which could be turned into seating areas for international games. In Leverkusen and Kaiserslautern, however, stands were erected that severely restrict freedom of movement, which was our main concern.

Are you working on any projects now? If so, what do they look like? Where are they taking place and who’s involved?

Our biggest project right now is the exhibition, »Tatort Stadion« (Crime-scene: stadium). The exhibition will open in the beginning of November in Berlin and is supposed to go on tour afterwards. With this exhibition, we want to draw attention to the fact that the issues of racism and Nazi influence on football and fan sections in the stadium are by no means resolved, even if one only seldom hears the »uh-uh« calls directed against players of color.

We are also planning to put this exhibition online and to continue it with the help of D-A-S-H. We want to document racist attacks, racist slogans and similar problems encountered in and around stadiums, as well as neonazi appearances in the fan sections of the stadium, and the resistance against it, on a separate internet site that can make this information available to the public. We are thinking of a site that would be updated daily and established as a serious research project in the football scene. The plan is to work together with progressive fan projects, fan initiatives, informal and legally recognized fan clubs and antifascist groups.

The other project is a brochure about police attacks on football fans. The plan’s just in the pipeline now, but we’ll talk about it at the winter meeting. Whoever actively contributes and accepts the not altogether easy form of cooperation across the republic can participate.

Is there a chance for success concerning the work against racism in the stadium?

Yes, there is. Whenever fans have rallied against racism, things have changed. For the most part, fans were really grateful that someone had taken the initiative and they joined in. The latest example is 1860 Munich. The initiative, »Löwenfans gegen Rechts« (Löwen fans against the Right), was very popular and met with general acclaim. In club forums too, the issue is passionately discussed and especially here, you can see that more people than you would suspect are sick of racism in the stadium. Of course, you cannot deal with this issue as though it were distinct from the social situation as a whole. B.A.F.F.’s intent to act where the problem itself is found is acted upon every week and it does this every week. In the last few years, we’ve succeeded in focusing the public’s eye on the issue of racism in the stadium and have achieved a certain measure of success in work against it. On the other hand, the fact that racist insults aren’t being yelled – either individually or in choruses – does not mean that people have changed. Rather, they feel that »it’s not appropriate« or »it’s just not done«. Longer-term changes in people’s consciousness take years, and that’s true of football fans too.

What tendencies can be observed in German stadiums?

The Nazis are still there, but they’re focusing on recruitment. There are always new lows, for example when Hertha fans attacked a squat in Babelsberg or when Essen Fans yelled »Foreigners out«.

In the meantime, however, events like these continue to call forth counter-reactions. People in the fan scene speak out against Nazi appearances or at least make clear where they stand through banners, open letters and similar things. Unlike a few years ago, when it was quite possible, it is no longer conceivable today that an entire fan scene would spout right-wing trash and act accordingly without being confronted with any resistance (and without being noticed by the public). This seems to me to be a result of B.A.F.F.’s work.

What possibilities do you think there are for active fans to do something against racism in the stadium?

It’s been proven that the publication of a fan scene-specific fanzine is one of the best methods of doing something against the Right. You can publicize your own views through them and stand up with wit and creativity against the hate slogans of the other side. Long-term work in fan initiatives and fighting for fan interests lend groups and individuals standing in the fan scene.How do you evaluate club activities?

How credible and how successful are projects and initiatives like these?

With only a few exceptions, the clubs only do anything when they’re driven to. Of course they avoid political statements whenever they can, so that they don’t provoke a part of their paying public. But there are some people on the alert. The team captain of Energie Cottbus, for example, held an fry speech against racist manhunts a year ago.

The sole aim of the DFB (Deutscher Fußball Bund or German Football Association) and its initiatives is easily organized and well marketable football. In this regard, hate-filled racist slogans or scary skinheads are of course disturbing. On the other hand, the debate on the »crisis in German football« led to the extremely racist »initiative on foreigner restrictions« in German clubs. These suggestions and others that were put forward by sports officials and have in part already been adopted make absurd [the DFB’s] public professions of antiracist convictions, for example as seen in the campaign slogans, »my friend is a foreigner« or »against violence and xenophobia«.

Next article: FIFA World Congress

Dossier #2: Debates, events and projects that deal with racism in the stadium, and in so doing explores methods of media communication and networking.

  1. Racism In The Stadium
  2. B.A.F.F. (Association of Active Football Fans)
  3. FIFA World Congress
    (Gerd Dembrowski)
  4. Roter Stern Leipzig ’99 e.V.
  5. DoppelPass on Air
  6. Creating antiracist atmosphere
  7. Media prize »Youth against right-wing extremism«
  8. Charity Award for FARE
  9. Antiracist Football World Cup
  10. Eurofighter
  11. Links