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Bundesliga clubs make sustainability a licensing criterion

Football clubs which want to play in the first and second league in Germany will have to fulfil sustainability criteria from the season after next.

At a meeting of the German Football League (DFL) on 30 May first and second division Bundesliga clubs passed a resolution requiring clubs to fulfil minimum sustainability criteria from the 2023/24 season onwards. The criteria are divided into three categories: ‘club management and organisation’; ‘environment and resources’, and ‘stakeholders’.

The changes will be introduced in two stages: 39 of the requirements will be in place for the 2023/24 season and the other 78 for the 2024/25 season. They will be mandatory for clubs to be licensed to play in the leagues.

Further requirements are planned but will be voluntary.

"The DFL is carefully introducing the clubs to the sustainability criteria by categorising the minimum criteria over the next two licensing procedures. This is reasonable," said Dr Markus J. Friedl, sports law expert at Pinsent Masons. "Nevertheless, the clubs are advised not to put off fulfilling the criteria, as the minimum criteria of category II are quite demanding."

Clubs must demonstrate a sustainability strategy and an environmental strategy for licensing for the 2023/24 season and appoint a sustainability officer. The environmental strategy must analyse the environmental impact and emissions of the club locations and set targets and interim goals. The clubs must collect a range of other data, for example on their energy and water consumption as well as their wastewater production. Clubs will also have to conduct a mobility and traffic analysis and develop an environmentally friendly mobility concept on this basis. They will also have to look at ways to reduce waste. Other criteria take into account the mobility of fans travelling to matches.

There are requirements on social issues, too: the clubs must commit to equality, diversity and inclusion, demonstrate a code of conduct for all employees and clearly distance themselves from discrimination. The clubs must also prove how many female employees they have and how many management and board positions are held by women.

"Constant and gradual enhancement of the guidelines is envisaged so that all clubs have the opportunity to keep on developing and expanding their structures in this field," the DFL said. "With this in mind, some criteria are initially also geared towards obtaining further findings and data."

A data platform for the clubs is being planned to help them to collect and evaluate information more easily. Guidelines and templates for analyses will also be supplied, as will further training opportunities for club employees. The DFL said that it was important to design the new requirements in such a way that all clubs in the first and second Bundesliga could meet them - from Champions League participants to those promoted from the third division. For promoted clubs in particular, it will be possible to apply for a temporary exemption that allows them to implement the sustainability guideline at a later date.

In December 2021 DFL members had included a preamble on sustainability in the statutes of the league association and decided that sustainability should be a licensing criterion in future, but had not defined the criteria.

"The level of detail already applied in the sustainability guideline now adopted by the DFL's general meeting nourishes the hope that the DFL and the clubs are aware of their wide reach within the population and their resulting responsibility," said Christian Lütkehaus, ESG expert at Pinsent Masons. "With a view to further developments, it will be particularly interesting to observe how the minimum criteria will be further specified and to what extent the individual clubs will use the framework for action given to them beyond the minimum criteria."

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