Herbert Hainer, FC Bayern president

Herbert Hainer: The expression of the freedom of each individual

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To mark Volunteer Day on 5 December, FC Bayern president Herbert Hainer visited our neighbours FC Sportfreunde. There, he discussed with director Herrlin Markja why commitment is so indispensable for society - on both a small and a large scale.

Interview with Herbert Hainer and Herrlin Markja

To start our conversation, two quotes: "If you want to live happily and joyfully, don't let any volunteer work give you anything". - Wilhelm Busch, a mocking pen...
Herbert Hainer: "As a child, I liked Wilhelm Busch's stories very much, and many of his quotes are amusing - but I think he misses the mark here. I have read that there are about 31 million people in Germany who do voluntary work, be it in a football club, in the volunteer fire brigade and so on. I don't think that the people who are involved are unhappy. Rather the opposite."

Herrlin Markja: "I can fully subscribe to that from practical experience. Viewed in isolation, there are of course days when things don't go so well or are less fun. But at the end of the day, it's a whole calculation. Of course, you go home frustrated sometimes, but you know why you are involved. If it didn't make you feel fulfilled and satisfied, you wouldn't do it. On balance, volunteering is life-enriching."

Two clubs - one vision: Bayern president Herbert Hainer and Herrlin Markja, director of FC Sportfreunde München, share an enthusiasm for voluntary work - on both a small and a large scale. © Photo: Florian Generotzky

The second quote is from Seneca: "Human society is like a vault that would collapse if the individual stones did not support each other."
Hainer: "The quote is much more on the mark, because these people live our society. Because our society lives through clubs and communities where children and people in general come together. Without voluntary work, our society would not function as it does. Life would be less worth living. Volunteering is the expression of the freedom of each individual to take responsibility for society and to actively shape life together."

Markja: "In my opinion, the 31 million you just mentioned are a significant figure. One third of the German population is involved - what would happen if that were not the case? I'm not thinking of the many sports clubs, whose work would be impossible, but of a volunteer fire brigade, for example, and its direct protection of society. From the point of view of the sports clubs at least, I have to say that we are unfortunately looking more and more desperately for committed people. Maybe the rate is dropping, that would be bad."

Why is it becoming more difficult to inspire people?
Hainer: "There’s the saying that people move together in times of need. And here in Germany, we have comparatively few problems. The flip side is that the idea of community is perhaps no longer as pronounced. People used to help each other more. I grew up in a small club. When a player got married and built a house, we all helped out every Saturday for weeks. A club should be like a second home, it gave me a lot, and without the volunteers many things would have been unthinkable. But the shared experience of cohesion is probably no longer so important to some due to the development of our affluent society."

Markja: "A major factor is that the range of leisure activities has grown so much. In the past, there was work, family - and the club. Today, the options are much broader, and in addition, the demands of professional life have increased, at least in my opinion. If you ask parents who watch a game or training session whether they would like to take over a team, they often say: ‘Sorry, no time!’ Ultimately, you have to make the time, and I think you just have to give it a try."

Hainer: "On the other hand, I also see that young people in particular are increasingly recognising the advantages of voluntary work. You have the chance to exchange ideas with others, you learn from each other, you take away a lot for life - all this contributes enormously to your own personal development. A sports club in particular offers a lot of space for this. You, Herrlin, a young man of 26, are involved as director of a sports club in addition to preparing for your state law exams. I’m sure that in your role here at the club you will experience many things that will help you later on. You just said that sometimes you go home frustrated - yes, of course, but that's part of life. That you are also allowed to make mistakes, have to deal with negative things, find compromises, perceive and live through all possible perspectives."

Conversation among neighbours: Herbert Hainer visited Herrlin Markja at the home of FC Sportfreunde München. © Photo: Florian Generotzky

If you were reviewing applications today, would you look to see if someone was active outside of their studies or professional field?
Hainer: "I have had many job interviews and seen CVs over the years, and I have never hired only based on professional background. Self-initiative was and is important to me, the ability to make decisions that are good for a community - to try something out sometimes, to be courageous without the guarantee that the plan will work out. I didn't do any voluntary work myself in the past, but I ran a pub alongside my studies. I also had to deal with different people and challenges. It's always a learning process to think outside the box."

When it comes to volunteering, would you suggest better certification, for example, so that it could play a bigger role in job application processes?
Hainer: "Companies should support voluntary work and also take it into account in their recruitment processes. It’s not reprehensible if a young person says that such an activity brings me further personally - it may also be a question of personal perspective. Basically, the benefits of volunteering are not monetary, but idealistic - and yet priceless. Volunteering is a free school of learning. Ultimately, the impact has no relation to monetary countervalues. Commitment always pays off.”

Active support: Even at the age of 80, Inge Gandl is still active for Sportfreunde. © Photo: Florian Generotzky

Herrlin, you’re nodding keenly...
Markja: "Because Mr Hainer is expressing exactly how I feel. In my one and a half years with Sportfreunde, I’ve learned an enormous amount for my life in dealing with people. That is the school of life. There are all kinds of different characters here that you have to reconcile, because in the end they all have the common goal of advancing the club. The IT specialist who fiddles around with a website, the treasurer who wants to be a tax advisor one day, the lawyer who wants to develop a feeling for people. In voluntary work, everyone can realise their potential.”

Mr Hainer, you said earlier that people come together in times of need. Now we are experiencing a time of crisis, is it becoming more important again to look out for each other?
Hainer: "The example of Covid-19 has shown that many people have moved closer together again and have taken more care of each other. I experienced this, among other things, when we participated in the Münchner Tafel with our basketball players. Another good example is the support for refugees, in which many people are involved on a voluntary basis. Volunteering is always a contribution to social integration.”

Volunteering also finds a home at Germany biggest sports club, as for example through Martin Simon, who is involved as the head of the bowling department. © Photo: Florian Generotzky

In a society that is becoming increasingly divided, will the rifts widen if voluntary work is pushed back?
Hainer: "I would not like to imagine a society without voluntary work. For example, what would happen if there were no more clubs? Clubs like Sportfreunde, which do invaluable grassroots work? Even at our ‘big’ FC Bayern, we try to exemplify how important cohesion and the family idea are. Blood is thicker than water. When the going gets tough, a family sticks together.”

Markja: "Definitely. And I would like to throw in another aspect here, if you break our society down to a football club. The coaches at our club work completely on a voluntary basis. There are other clubs where the fees are three or four times as high per year, and there are more and more football schools that are professionalising talent development. This will lead to the financially stronger ones offering their children special training - and at the same time we will no longer be able to implement our concept with our non-profit aspect."

A professionalisation of recreational sport.
Marjka: "Above all, a monetarisation where you pay per child, per month, per session. Our membership fee completely loses its meaning, the basic idea behind it and its purpose, which is to live a community from which you can learn something. With the alternative model, it's ultimately only about performance and service in return."

Hainer: "When club life falls by the wayside, the teaching of many community-building values is lost. Some parents see their children as the next Jamal Musiala and build enormous pressure early on, which takes the fun out of it. We need clubs, they make an invaluable contribution to the teaching of values. And we need people who do voluntary work. They are real social role models. You can't thank them enough."

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