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Fear and anger from fans about changes in the Bundesliga

February 22, 2018

FILE - In this Feb. 19, 2018 file photo Leipzig goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky kicks tennis balls off the pitch prior to the German Bundesliga soccer match between Eintracht Frankfurt and RB Leipzig in Frankfurt, Germany. Fans threw tennis balls onto pitch to protest against the match played on a Monday instead of the weekend. (Fabian Sommer/dpa via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — German soccer fans are increasingly unhappy about changes in the Bundesliga, including Monday night games, video assistance, questionable sponsorship arrangements, and growing pressure on the rule protecting clubs from outside investors.

Protests, threats, and anger dominated the 23rd round last weekend, and authorities are braced for more to come in the 11 remaining.

Eintracht Frankfurt fans vented their fury this week in the first of five scheduled Monday night games, occupying the area behind the goal, delaying kickoff, then drowning out the referee’s whistle with whistles of their own. They delayed the second half by throwing hundreds of tennis balls onto the pitch and toilet paper onto the goal.

“We’re whistling against the Monday game. We set the tone here,” read a huge banner behind the goal. Another banner accused the German soccer federation of being a “football-mafia” for putting its interests first.

More protests are expected when Borussia Dortmund hosts Augsburg next Monday night. Home fans are calling for a boycott.

The video assistant referee has also been a source of frustration since being introduced this season.

Bottom club Cologne was again the victim on Saturday, when Claudio Pizarro’s 94th-minute winner over Hannover was ruled out, cutting short the home fans’ celebrations. Marcel Risse, who provided the cross, was just offside. The call was correct, but it prevented a special ending.

Cologne was twice earlier incorrectly denied goal-scoring opportunities, and coach Stefan Ruthenbeck was aggrieved that Filip Kostic of relegation-rival Hamburger SV was awarded a goal through video assistance despite being offside in Leipzig three weeks before.

If, as appears increasingly likely, Cologne is relegated, VAR will have played a part as the side has been subjected to wrong decisions over the season.

Other teams’ fans have voiced their opposition to it, too, many frustrated by the stoppages while referees review decisions or wait to have calls corrected from the video assistant working in Cologne. Sometimes the video assistant does not step in, heightening the sense of injustice.

“It’s madness,” Cologne goalkeeper Timo Horn said. “If you analyze it calmly and factually, then these decisions are simply made arbitrarily. Sometimes yes, sometimes no.”

Some fans have protested against their own teams for lackluster performances. Wolfsburg ultras protested against their side during Bayern Munich’s visit last weekend.

“Ambitious fans seek a team,” read one banner, as many fans decided to stay away for the first 19 minutes and 45 seconds, corresponding with the club’s foundation year.

Wolfsburg coach Martin Schmidt quit the side on Monday, saying he hoped to take the pressure off his side and himself. Wolfsburg next faces relegation rival Mainz on Friday.

Hamburg fans piled the pressure on their team last Saturday, displaying a banner referring to the Bundesliga clock in the stadium that read, “We will hunt you out of the city before the clock switches off.”

The team responded like a relegated side against Bayer Leverkusen, slumping to another loss, and riot police with dogs had to prevent fans storming the pitch after fulltime.

“A line was crossed there. We cannot tolerate that,” Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt said. “We have no understanding when violence is threatened.”

Hamburg remains six points from safety. No other side has escaped with such a deficit at this stage.

Some Bayern Munich fans, long spoiled by the team’s success, are also unhappy with their club’s increasing links with Qatar amid questions of alleged human rights abuses.

Bayern announced on Tuesday that Qatar Airways is to take Lufthansa’s place as a sponsor from the summer to 2023, encompassing an existing agreement with Hamad International Airport in Doha worth a reported 10 million euros per season.

Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge contends his side’s links with Qatar are helping workers’ conditions in the Gulf country.

Boardroom decisions are also causing concern in Hannover, where club president Martin Kind’s recent decision not to pursue a majority stake has granted the league’s “50+1 rule” a reprieve. The rule states that commercial investors cannot hold more than a 49 percent stake in a club.

Hannover fans’ strong opposition to Kind’s plans to secure an exception may have convinced him to back down for now. Christian Seifert of the DFL said the league body will again look at the rule but a decision will not be made before the end of the year.

Borussia Moenchengladbach defender Matthias Ginter addressed the growing divisions in German soccer in an interview with Bild this week.

“We’re already at a point where the split with fans can be dangerous,” Ginter said. “This process is already complete in England. The teams there are completely isolated from the fans. They don’t even go to the stands after games. And the tickets cost double. We are much closer to our supporters here.”

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