Reports of failure from German athletes have been increasing recently. At the title fights in Budapest last month, Germany’s track and field athletes remained without a medal for the first time since the introduction of world championships in 1983.
The German fencers also came away empty-handed at their World Championships in July. The rowers also didn’t do as well as hoped at their world championships a few days ago.
And the national hockey teams – women and men – also failed to win a medal at the home European Championships, which ended three weeks ago, and therefore fell short of expectations.
Overall, the prospects of success for German sport across almost all Olympic sports less than a year before the Olympic Games in Paris are causing concern – especially since the Bundestag has just passed a draft budget that envisages a cut in the sports budget by around ten percent. Instead of 303 million euros previously, there should be 276 million in the Olympic year.
Independent sports agency
The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) responded to this sporting crisis and the criticism that was voiced from sporting circles. and the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI), which is responsible for sport, among other things, is now reacting. On Friday they jointly presented new “measures for the future promotion of elite sports in Germany”.
The central component is an independent sports agency, which will in future combine the management and financial support of top-class sport under one roof. This is intended to reduce bureaucracy and increase flexibility. DOSB President Thomas Weikert spoke of a “milestone”.
In addition, a sports funding law is to be passed in 2024 and will ensure continuous and fixed funding. “We agree with the BMI that we have a legal right to funding. And we also want to fix the amount of funding as much as possible,” said DOSB board chairman Torsten Burmester. “The law enables consistency, planning security and more flexibility.”
Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) also announced that the planned cuts might not be implemented after all. “I am very confident that we can prevent this,” she said at the sports ministers’ conference where the new concept was presented.
Harsh criticism of the PotAS analysis system
The reform of elite sports funding became necessary because the previous competitive sports reform of 2016 had not led to the desired success. The controversial potential analysis system (PotAS), which was heavily criticized by many activists and associations, was also introduced at that time.
PotAS is intended to find out and evaluate which sports have the greatest chances of winning Olympic medals. These sports will then be particularly promoted.
The self-assessment of the associations and the DOSB formed the basis of the funding until 2021. Since 2022, a commission has been assessing the potential for success for the next four years “based on competition data and our own algorithms”.
The main criticism is the high level of bureaucratic effort involved in PotAS, as well as the obvious fallibility of the system. An example: In the last survey, athletics (zero World Cup medals in 2023) was viewed as the sport with the highest chance of winning a medal and was promoted accordingly. Basketball (European Championship bronze 2022, World Cup gold 2023), on the other hand, performed the worst and received the least money.
Accordingly, after the men’s national team’s World Cup victory, basketball president Ingo Weiss cursed the “stupid bureaucratic monster” PotAS. But there was also harsh criticism from athletics. “You can’t shape sport in a political administrative style,” complained Robert Harting, 2012 Olympic discus champion. “In my opinion, this PotAs system is really sick,” said Harting, who called for its “death” on social media.
Better pay for trainers
But politicians and sports officials don’t want to go that far. PotAS should not disappear, but rather be further developed and integrated into the independent agency.
“When we published the rough concept in November 2022, we said that top-level sports funding in Germany should become more flexible, more digital, more innovative and less bureaucratic,” said DOSB boss Weikert. “We have come a lot closer to this goal.”
In addition to supporting athletes, the pay and appreciation of the work of well-trained trainers in Germany is particularly in disarray. The fact is that the pay abroad is often much better. Many trainers therefore leave and take their know-how with them to direct competition.
The new concept states that the previous salary caps should be abolished and “performance- or success-related salary components should be made possible”. Overall, trainer training should become more academic.
The aim and goal of all measures is that German sport strives for the “continuous development of world-class performance” and that “Germany’s international competitiveness” is secured.
Membership numbers in sports associations are declining
An important component in actually achieving this goal is young talent. If there are no or fewer children and young people in a sport, the pool of talent who could perhaps make it to the Olympic Games is logically smaller.
And here too, the numbers in some traditional sports do not speak for a rosy future in German sport: In athletics, the number of active participants has been declining for years. While the German Athletics Association had 899,520 members in 2006, there were only 766,424 in 2022 – a decline of 15 percent in 17 years.
The situation is similar in other Olympic sports: As the DOSB’s annual inventory survey shows, the number of members of the German Fencing Association fell from an interim high in 2014 with 25,943 members to 22,474 by 2021, while the German Wrestling Association fell from 74,889 (2002 ) to 62,108 members (2022). The numbers are particularly dramatic for the German Judo Association, which lost around 58 percent of its members between 2002 (276,064) and 2022 (118,008).
Urgently looking for role models
A positive example here are once again the basketball players, who have been able to record an increase in membership in recent years, contrary to the general trend.
“This is very good news for German basketball,” DBB President Weiss is quoted on the association’s website. “Excellent work is being done at the DBB, in the regional associations and in the clubs, which makes this positive development possible.”
The success of the men’s national team at the World Cup could trigger another boom. The women had previously had a surprise success with their fifth place at the European Championships.
Because it is role models like Dennis Schröder and Co. who bring children and young people into sports and clubs. Olympic victories and medals in judo, wrestling, fencing or rowing could have a similar effect. However, this also requires appropriate support.