DOSB versus Ministry of the Interior: “The low point” in the power struggle over sports funding

As of: March 8, 2024 3:14 p.m

The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) rarely expresses such sharp criticism of politics as it recently did in view of the draft sports funding law. This envisages, among other things, an independent top sports agency that will in future be responsible for distributing tax money for top-class sports – with the right of veto for the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI). Sports scientist Lutz Thieme from Koblenz University classifies the situation and describes what continuations are possible in the conflict.

Volker Schulte

Sports show: Mr. Thieme, the BMI wants to have the say in the distribution of top-level sports funding, which is made clear with its draft of the Sports Funding Act. Are we currently experiencing the disempowerment of the DOSB?

Lutz Thieme: At least the BMI is carrying out its tasks as a donor in the way that the Federal Audit Office and members of the Budget Committee have requested of it. The BMI is responsible for the money, the DOSB and the leading associations have the expertise on how to achieve top sporting performance with this money. While the responsibility when it comes to money is undisputed, people can certainly have different opinions when it comes to the necessity of sports. In any case, the BMI and the Federal Office of Administration have been paying increasing attention to how the funds have been spent for some time.

Lutz Thieme, sports scientist at the University of Koblenz

To person

Prof. Dr. Lutz Thieme is a sports scientist at Koblenz University, where he teaches sports management and sports economics, among other things. Among its current research priorities, the university lists, for example, sports club and association research, careers in sports, sports infrastructure and sports promotion. The 57-year-old former competitive swimmer knows association work and all its difficulties from practice: from June 2018 to February 2019 he was President of the Rhineland-Palatinate State Sports Association.

Sports show: That seems understandable, because despite more and more money for top-class sport, currently 300 million euros per year, the medal yield has fallen. Were you surprised that the BMI is now claiming veto rights in the planned top sports agency?

Thieme: No, that wasn’t surprising. It There were clear indications from the Federal Audit Office and the Budget Committee of the Bundestag that the use of federal funds must be subject to parliamentary control and control by the federal government. This means a clear stop signal for the idea: Let’s sit down together and see how we can best distribute the money. The lobbyist for the grant recipients, i.e. the DOSB, cannot simultaneously benefit directly or indirectly from the distribution of the funds. On the other hand, of course, this cannot be in the interest of organized sport, which contributes its professional expertise.

Sports show: The DOSB criticized the draft bill unusually harshly.

Thieme: I was a bit surprised that no attempt was made to balance the above-mentioned conflict so that a massive reaction from the DOSB was not required. And the DOSB said that it had only recently become aware of the draft bill. It’s remarkable in terms of the procedure that the person most affected is informed just as much as the public. In such a complicated situation, a lot is about symbolism and trust – and that seems to me to have been a problem recently, both in the sports development plan and now in the elite sports reform.

Sports show: Another point of criticism from the DOSB about the Sports Promotion Act is that the planned sports agency is not independent. This is understandable when you consider that the agency would operate almost exclusively with BMI funds and at the same time would be controlled by the BMI.

Thieme: I think that the BMI and the DOSB have different ideas about what “independent” means. It could be that these ideas are not compatible with each other. Completely independent organizations cannot exist in our networked world. The more an organization is dependent on the inflow of resources and the regulatory authority of third parties, the less independent it can be. This is particularly true when an organization lacks relevant alternative sources of resources.

Sports show: You have been observing the tensions between politics and organized sport for many years. How do you classify the current situation?

Thieme: I believe that this is already the lowest point of the past few years, because the federal government’s central projects at the sporting level have at least been called into question. The sports development plan had to be withdrawn, and the strengthening of the municipal sports infrastructure was barely saved from a budgetary perspective. It is completely unclear whether there will ever be federal funding for this again. And with the funding law we now have the third pillar of sports policy, which is very unstable, even if those involved would claim otherwise.

Sports show: In the past, attempts have been made to resolve disputes by replacing management personnel. Now we have SPD-affiliated officials in the DOSB, an SPD-led coalition and an SPD interior minister – and yet the conflict continues.

Thieme: We are obviously not dealing with unfavorable constellations of people, but rather with structural barriers. I’m missing a broader discussion about possible solutions. It seems to me that a circle that only consists of DOSB and BMI is stewing too much in its own juice. On the other hand, you can say: It didn’t work with broad participation, namely in the sports development plan. Perhaps a stronger focus on the structure of the process will help: with what goal do we want to set up which process and how, in order to then achieve broadly supported results in an open-ended manner.

Sports show: Even though both sides emphasize that they will continue to negotiate, the situation appears to be deadlocked. What ways out do you see?

Thieme: One variant would be that the BMI and DOSB actually manage to get away from the verbal accusations and agree on a process that would then lead to stronger cooperation. However, I don’t have the imagination to see why it should be better the next time around. Perhaps the issue will be put on the back burner and blamed on the next federal government. I also sense a certain level of sports fatigue in politics because a lot of socio-political things have started to slide. In such a multi-crisis situation, sport may not be the most important thing. Or the BMI is now implementing the sports funding law and accepting the collateral damage.

Sports show: That sounds like a solution with serious consequences for the DOSB.

Thieme: Then every single top sports association would have to think about how to deal with this situation, because then there is an agency with significant influence. It’s one thing to support the DOSB right now. But if it becomes clear that the BMI is actually implementing the current draft law, I will be curious to see how the individual leading associations react.