Dr. Theo Zwanziger: Grassroots football – Club culture in Germany

Our beloved football brings people to­­gether. Men, women, children and teens across all generations come together to play, celebrate and organise. Origin, religion and skin colour make no difference. The sport connects and unites.


In our clubs, we are given the opportunity to promote and help shape community life and development sustainably. The ensuing social responsibility must certainly not be underestimated. Histori­­cally and in the present, the defining endeavour has always been to not only provide mem­­bers with a home arena but also create a meeting place where friendship and community can be fostered and experienced. The significance and value of voluntary service to society and, of course, to the sport of football cannot be emphasised often enough in that regard. Football moves Germany and its citizens – literally: with about 80,000 matches per week in all leagues and divisions, not only the players are active. The sport of football is estimated to mobilise approximately one million voluntary contributors, who, week after week, pull their weight organising match operations in approximately 26,000 clubs and 180,000 teams. Trainers, supervisors, managers, referees and, last but not least, the many parents who accompany their children to the matches, contribute invaluably to fostering our children and teens. Without their dedication, youth teams would never reach their destinations, jerseys would be left dirty, and the field would lack its lines. For that reason, the promotion of volunteerism represents one of the key future issues for not only our association but also our society as a whole – and, above all, is a matter close to my heart.


To promote volunteerism, a few promising campaigns were initiated in the past. In cooperation with the regional associations, the German Football Association (DFB) has been awarding a voluntary service prize since as early as 1997. More­­over, a network was set up from the top to the base. All 21 regional associations, all football districts, and even over 12,000 clubs each have a voluntary service representative. In 2000, promoting and supporting volun­­teerism was incorporated into paragraph four of the DFB statutes and established as a responsibility of the DFB. Paragraph four now stipulates: “It is the distinct purpose and responsibility of the DFB to promote and support volunteerism.”


In the meantime, football has also become an important social network. More and more people fulfil their functions as trainer, treasurer or groundsman not merely out of a sense of duty. We notice increasingly that people use voluntary service to work on their own character. While the players score goals on the turf, our volunteers are scoring outside the field. Through their voluntary commitments, they experience fun, gain friends, expand their abilities, and give more reason to their lives. Asso­­ci­ations and clubs as well as their members profit from the knowledge and strengths of their volunteers. In turn, the latter gain experiences that further help them – a giving and taking where everybody wins.

Voluntary service campaign – a success story. Those positive aspects also drive the DFB’s voluntary service campaign. For 14 years now, we have contributed to supporting our clubs and their contrib­­utors and preparing them for future challenges. We have undoubtedly achieved a lot during those years. However, to make sure that people continue to commit to voluntary service in our clubs, it will continue to be our responsibility, on the one hand, to support volunteers, honour their achieve­­­ments, and encourage them to carry on with their actions. On the other hand, we must try to provide more people with an interest, if not an enthusiasm, for volunteerism! Under the motto „Danke ans Ehrenamt“ the German Football Lea­gue (DFL) and the German Football As­­so­ciation (DFB) jointly honour the many silent helpers on the sidelines every year. The initiative is jointly supported by all 36 professional clubs of the first and second Bundesliga as well as the teams of the third Bundes­­liga and the women’s Bun­des­­liga through a match day of banners, club newsletter articles and stadium displays. The voluntary service representatives in clubs are and remain key. They represent the back­­bone of the DFB’s voluntary service campaign, are the messengers of our philo­­s­­ophy, and propagate the idea into ever more clubs.
I am very happy to observe that the network of voluntary service repre­­sentatives is becoming increasingly dense. One may justi­fiably affirm: without them, our cause would not be realisable.


Close coordination with the regional DFB associations is a requirement for successful work. I am also happy that all regional associations have adopted the “promotion and support of volunteerism” in their statutes – an important step, I believe. That gives the 21 regional volun­tary service representatives the necessary backing for their tasks: informing about new developments, implementing training courses, and providing oppor­tunities to exchange experi­­ences, such as the “volun­teer meeting”, at which district and club voluntary service representatives discuss current topics with a practical orientation. Qualifying voluntary service representatives: the key to success. Only if you are well trained yourself can you also adequately train others. Qualifying voluntary service representatives is, thus, the key to a successful development at the base. This takes place on two levels: on the one hand, the network itself is qualified; that is the club, district and regional volun­­tary service representatives as well as the voluntary service commission. District voluntary service representatives, for instance, have been receiving contin­­uous training and support for their mandate. On the other hand, the DFB newsletter regularly pro­­vides information on various campaigns.


The course for the future is set. The promo­­tion and support of volunteerism are on the right track. Over the past years, we have set up a very functional communication system, carried out a variety of campaigns, and created useful materials. In doing so, we were able to gain public attention for our cause and advance far into the base. However, we are still far from the goal: not every club has a volun­­tary service representative yet. Therefore, the voluntary service commission shall not grow tired of promoting its objectives. It will give impulses and support the regional associations in their work to the best of its ability. In the end, we must evaluate whether we are of any use to the associ­ations and are capable of preparing them for future challenges – a task that the DFB and its regional associations must contin­­ually pursue. That path of sustainable association and club management is a require­­ment for the viability of football in Germany. Therefore, I would particularly like to thank the countless people and contributors who, throughout the year, commit their hearts and souls to the well-being of our sport. Their devotion is simply fabulous!


Portrait-quer-KopieThe author was president of the German Football Association (DFB) from 2004 until 2012. Theo Zwanziger was born in Altendiez in 1945. To this day, he is still affiliated with the local club, VfL Alt­en­diez, where he kicked the ball until 1975. For his service to German football, the 2004 DFB extraordinary meeting awar­­­­ded him the Golden Honorary Pin.