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The Bundesliga and its TV deal with Russia

April 6, 2022

Russian fans were unable to watch all 90 minutes of Dortmund's match with Leipzig after the feed was cut over pro-Ukraine protests. Unlike other leagues, the Bundesliga has yet to scrap its TV deal with Russia.

'StandWithUkraine and STOP WAR banners in the Signal Iduna Park
The messages of solidarity with Ukraine and against the war on the country were too much for Russian TVImage: Bernd Thissen/dpa/picture alliance

Last Saturday, the feed of the Bundesliga showcase match on Russian television stopped.

"Unfortunately, we have to halt the broadcast for reasons beyond our control," commentator Igor Kytmanov explained while the top match between Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig was still in the first half. The reason was blatant censorship of pro-Ukraine and anti-Russia images as well as anti-war banners on prominent display in the stadium.

The German Football League (DFL), which operates the Bundesliga, now has a decision to make.

"It is part of the human rights due diligence of companies to severely downgrade or completely doing business in Russia," Dorothee Baumann-Pauly, professor of business and human rights at the University of Geneva told DW. "This affects all industries, so clearly also the Bundesliga."

Football leagues cut ties with Russia

Other top European leagues, such as the English Premier League and Ligue 1 in France, have already terminated their TV contracts in Russia at the beginning of March. The Premier League's decision was unanimous, with all 20 member clubs backing the move.

The DFL, though, took a much different decision, electing to continue honoring its contract with Russian media company Match TV for the time being. The revenue generated from the deal is to be donated to support humanitarian aid in Ukraine. In its decision not to cut ties with Match TV, the DFL argued that this would allow the anti-war message and German fans' and club's calls for peace to reach the Russian population. 

 Dorothee Baumann-Pauly
Dorothee Baumann-Pauly says all businesses need to severely downgrade or cut all ties with RussiaImage: privat

"You can see this is not working," Baumann-Pauly stressed. "So, there should be a withdrawal (from the contract)." 

The matter has been made even more urgent, she said, by the images that have emerged from the Ukrainian town of Buchaa in recent days, which suggest that war crimes have been committed. 

"Supplying entertainment to Russia in the form of Bundesliga football against the backdrop of atrocities does not work," the business ethics professor said. She added that the Russian government is using the broadcasts of Bundesliga as a commodity to help create the appearance of life carrying on as usual in the country. 

DFL reaction pending

There is no question about where the Bundesliga stands on the issue. All of its clubs have and continue to condemn Russia's war of aggression on Ukraine.

In response to a DW query, Borussia Dortmund pointed to several initiatives that the club has launched along with its fans to provide aid to Ukraine, while at the same time voicing their demand for an immediate stop to the war. It's this demand that sparked that took Saturday's Bundesliga game off the air in Russia.

In its statement, the DFL also said that its cooperation with Match TV would only continue as long as it "broadcasts the basic signal provided by the DFL unchanged, including Ukraine-related messages from the league, players, clubs and fans."  

It stressed that any manipulation of the signal for the purpose of censorship would "result in extraordinary termination (of the contract)."

However, it seems that the suspension of the broadcast of the Dortmund-Leipzig game by Match TV was not sufficient for the DFL to terminate the contract. 

In a statement to DW, the DFL said that it was "currently counting on the possibility of reaching people in Russia with messages of peace from the stadiums. At the same time, we are of course closely monitoring whether and to what extent this possibility continues to exist." 

This article was adapted from German.

Edited by: Davis VanOpdorp

Jens Krepela
Jens Krepela Editor, reporter and author