DÜSSELDORF/DORTMUND (dpa-AFX) - Shortly before the Champions League final, a Borussia Dortmund sponsorship deal is causing a stir. The arms manufacturer Rheinmetall will be supporting BVB for the next three years. The partnership is causing a stir in politics, society and fans. Many are critical of the deal.

A spokesperson for Rheinmetall did not want to comment on the financial volume, but according to the "Handelsblatt" it is a single-digit million euro amount per year. The partnership reportedly includes the use of high-reach advertising space, marketing rights and event and hospitality services in the stadium and on the club grounds. The Düsseldorf-based company will become BVB's "Champion Partner", i.e. a particularly important financial sponsor.

BVB braces itself for criticism

BVB boss Hans-Joachim Watzke pointed out that security and defense are cornerstones of democracy. "That's why we think it's the right decision to take a very close look at how we protect these cornerstones." The company is looking forward to working together and "as Borussia Dortmund, we consciously open ourselves up to a discourse". Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger expressed his satisfaction. "BVB and Rheinmetall are two partners whose ambitions, attitude and background are a good match," said the armaments manager.

The discourse mentioned by Watzke could come at an inopportune time for Dortmund and distract from sporting issues ahead of Saturday's Champions League final against Real Madrid. "There is only one topic now, and that is this final," BVB sporting director Sebastian Kehl said on Tuesday: "I would like us to concentrate on this game."

Borussia's fan and demands department is critical of the deal. Even before the cooperation was announced, fan representatives had already expressed "the explosive nature in general, concerns about a partnership and its communication as well as doubts about its compatibility with Borussia Dortmund's values" in an open exchange with the management of the Revierclub, according to a statement.

Economics Minister Habeck: Reflects the reality of the turnaround

This is not the first time that an arms company has become involved with a soccer club. Renk GmbH, which manufactures tank transmissions among other things, has been a supplier to FC Augsburg since September 2023.

The Federal Association of the German Security and Defense Industry (BDSV) welcomed the partnership between Rheinmetall and BVB. "Sponsorship is a way of conveying to a broad section of the population the feeling that weapons are not something 'unsavory' for the preservation of our security and peace, but are simply a normal part of our social reality if we want to live in peace and freedom," said BDSV CEO Hans Christoph Atzpodien.

Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck also commented on the deal. "The fact that Rheinmetall is now sponsoring a soccer club is indeed unusual at first, but it shows where we stand," said the Green politician in Berlin. We are in constant contact with Rheinmetall to ensure that the company produces even more ammunition to support Ukraine, said the minister, who is also responsible for arms exports.

"We know and unfortunately have to admit that we are in a different, more threatening world." This is why "the practiced and understandable restraint" in public dealings with the arms industry is no longer sustainable and correct, said Habeck. "In this respect, this sponsorship certainly also reflects the reality of the turning point to some extent." After the Russian attack on Ukraine, the German government declared a "turnaround" and made 100 billion euros available to get the Bundeswehr up to speed. Rheinmetall is also benefiting from this package.

The Federal Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for sport, did not want to comment on the Rheinmetall-BVB deal. A ministry spokesperson said that, as a matter of principle, they do not comment on sponsorship agreements with sports clubs.

In North Rhine-Westphalia, state spokesman Sascha Wagner from the Left Party strongly criticized the deal. The connection was "a nasty foul play", said Wagner: "The arms company lives from the business with death." North Rhine-Westphalia's Economics Minister Mona Neubaur from the Green Party, on the other hand, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur "that the public perception of the company has changed in the past two years or so - including my own." We need "companies like Rheinmetall to be able to defend our democracy and our freedom in an emergency. And yet the arms industry is not like any other industry. I can therefore understand that many fans have mixed feelings about the sponsorship."

Criticism from fans and pacifists

Soccer fans outside the BVB fan section and in other parts of society also reacted negatively. The German Peace Society - United Opponents of Military Service launched an online petition in which it called on BVB to back down and issued a "red card for the advertising deal". "A weapons manufacturer as a sponsor does not fit in with the values that BVB - and soccer as a whole - represents," the pacifists said. Numerous users vented their displeasure on "X" (formerly Twitter). The satirical party Die Partei also published a photomontage showing a tank standing on a soccer pitch with the headline: "BVB - we don't just score goals". The Protestant Church also criticized the deal.

Rheinmetall already active as a sports sponsor

Sponsoring a sports club is not new territory for the armaments group, which is also active as an automotive supplier - Rheinmetall already sponsors the handball club Bergischer HC from Solingen, not far from Düsseldorf. With the soccer club and Champions League finalist BVB, however, Rheinmetall's sports sponsorship has reached another level.

With around 30,000 employees, Germany's largest armaments group is on a growth trajectory, with demand for ammunition, tanks and anti-aircraft guns skyrocketing after the Russian attack on Ukraine. Since the beginning of 2022, the order backlog has risen by around 10 billion euros to 24 billion euros, with turnover expected to reach 10 billion euros this year. This would be almost twice as high as in 2021, i.e. before the war in Ukraine (5.7 billion euros). The share price has more than quintupled since February 2022. Rheinmetall is important in the defense of Ukraine, the company supplies military equipment on a large scale and is paid for by the German government./wdw/DP/jha