Amateur football in Germany - Illicit payments of up to 500 million euros

Do 20.01.22 | 16:18 Uhr | Von Hajo Seppelt, Arne Steinberg, Wigbert Löer and Ben Arcioli
Fußballschuhe sind an einer Stange festgeschnürt. In ihnen stecken Geldcheine (Foto: imago images / Hanno Bode)
imago images / Hanno Bode
Bild: imago images / Hanno Bode

An ARD survey of more than 10,000 amateur footballers shows how much money flows into Germany's lower leagues - in part bypassing taxation. By Hajo Seppelt, Arne Steinberg, Wigbert Löer and Ben Arcioli

The largest survey ever undertaken on financial structures in German amateur football shows for the first time the huge extent of an illicit money culture down to the district leagues. Projections based on an ARD survey of more than 10,000 footballers shows that more than one billion euros is paid below the professional leagues every year - half of it seemingly bypassing tax.

The online survey was conducted by ARD with the support of the non-profit research centre "Correctiv". Daily newspapers, trade journals and football portals helped to disseminate the survey. The participants indicated in the questionnaire in which leagues they played, what they earned there and whether their earnings were recorded in writing. Players also commented on the method of payment - cash, bank transfer or payment-in-kind and services. Some left their name and contact details, while others answered the questions anonymously.

Even in the district league, more than every third respondent collects money.

Among the participants were 8,085 male players aged 18 to 39. Of them, 60.2 per cent had at least once received money for playing football in an amateur club. They received a fixed monthly amount and/or point and win bonuses. In the sample month of October 2020 alone, 36.9 per cent of them said they had received money for playing football.

According to the survey, it is by no means unusual to earn money from football in lower leagues either. In the fifth league, 89.9 per cent of all players are paid. In League 6, it is 76.6 per cent, in the seventh league 50.9 per cent. In the eighth league, which in some of the DFB's regional associations is the Bezirksliga, in others the Kreisliga, 36.4 per cent of the players still receive money for their commitment to the club.

Projection: Half a billion euros in suspected illicit money per year

Assuming that Germany's amateur footballers receive on average about the same amounts of money as participants in the nationwide survey, projecting the data for the example month of October 2020 yields a huge sum. In this month, around 100 million euros were paid to amateur players in Germany. Assuming that no football is played for about two months of the year, this amounts to one billion euros per season.

If one also assumes that the proportion of concealed payments ("illicit", "in the envelope") is as high as stated by the players in the survey, then 50 million would be paid per month, i.e. 500 million euros of presumed black money per season.

Statistics professor Andreas Groll from the TU Dortmund analysed the survey for ARD. Groll says that an online survey of this kind cannot, of course, be representative. But the survey was "statistically and scientifically cleanly conducted". The statistics laboratory of the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, after examining the projection, certifies that it is "correct and comprehensible" under the assumptions made.

Player contracts - a rarity in amateur football

ARD submitted the results of the survey to the renowned Munich sports lawyer Thomas Summerer. Summerer prepared a legal opinion on the matter. He told ARD that the survey would "trigger a small earthquake, because if there are illicit accounts, that is already a criminal offence per se, namely embezzlement." Clubs caught paying black money would face "the withdrawal of their non-profit status". According to Summerer, a player who accepts illegal payments can also "get into massive trouble". He could receive "up to five years imprisonment or a fine for tax evasion".

According to the DFB playing regulations, amateur footballers are not allowed to receive more than 250 euros per month in reimbursement of expenses and/or expense allowances. If more money flows, an amateur contract must be concluded. Taxes and social security contributions are then due. Despite the high flow of money, however, the number of amateur contracts in amateur football is negligible. In the 2020/2021 season, there were just around 8,500 amateur contracts for every 700,000 amateur players, according to the 21 regional associations of the DFB. A patron from Hesse, the entrepreneur Gerhard Klapp, told ARD that there were "few amateur contracts" in the clubs he supported. He explained this with the additional costs and confirmed that going the official route was expensive for the clubs.

Handyman services or bogus mini-job for the girlfriend

In the ARD survey, almost one in five players (18.2 per cent) stated that they had already been remunerated in kind or with services for playing football. The clubs or sponsors reward the player's commitment on the pitch by providing him with a flat or a car, for example. Some amateurs also receive tradesmen's services, and sometimes the girlfriend gets a mini-job, which is then not performed but paid for. A widespread practice to remunerate a player is also to hire him as a youth coach for appearances - but without him coaching any team.

The German Football Association is fundamentally critical of payments in lower leagues. A DFB spokesperson told ARD that such payments are the "wrong way to go". For the 21 regional associations under the umbrella of the DFB, however, "control is not possible". The internal regulations in the clubs are "a matter for the independent clubs". The framework conditions for this are set by the legislator.

The data from the survey show that money is hardly ever paid in women's football at amateur level.

Beitrag von Hajo Seppelt, Arne Steinberg, Wigbert Löer and Ben Arcioli

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