On the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the Allianz Arena will be lit up in purple on Thursday evening - with this, FC Bayern, together with its partner Allianz Deutschland, is setting an example of inclusion. Drawing attention to the contribution made by people with disabilities is deeply rooted in the values of the German record champions, as Jürgen Muth, Allianz Arena München Stadion GmbH managing director, and FC Bayern's disability fan representative and senior chairman of the Rollwagerl 93 e.V. fan club, Kim Krämer, attest to in this double interview.
Double interview with Jürgen Muth and Kim Krämer:
Mr Muth, the Allianz Arena will be lit up in purple on 3 December to draw attention to the contribution made by people with disabilities to society as part of the "#PurpleLightUp" campaign. Another new colour - but a very important one.
Muth: "You're right: purple has never been seen before. Before we upgraded to LED lighting for the façade, we'd never had the opportunity to do so. Now we have 16 million colours available - and purple is becoming particularly important because of this occasion. The campaign is something special that is particularly close to our hearts. We are very happy to take part in it, because inclusion is anchored in the values of FC Bayern and was important in the construction of the Allianz Arena from the very beginning. Our thanks therefore also go to the approval authorities, for giving us the opportunity to show our colours - in the truest sense of the word."
Right from the start - does that mean that special attention was paid to the needs of people with disabilities during the planning of the arena?
Muth: "Even more than that: right from the start of the planning, well before 2005, we made sure that our spectators with disabilities were to be given the best seats and the best parking spaces possible. In addition, we designed the service facilities in such a way that they were not only very good for people with disabilities, but optimally suited to them".
Mr Krämer, you have experience with various different stadiums: Are the conditions for people with disabilities particularly good at FC Bayern?
Krämer: "Yes, the Allianz Arena is still one of the best stadiums in Europe when it comes to inclusivity, even 15 years after its opening. Of course, this has to do with the fact that people with disabilities were included in the plans from the very first minute. But the willingness and awareness of those responsible at FC Bayern to follow and implement developments in terms of accessibility and inclusion is also an important factor."
What were the biggest challenges in planning and implementation, and what are the day-to-day challenges?
Krämer: "The most important step in 2002 was to get all the important stakeholders around a table and to address the issue. Together with all those involved - the architects, the decision-makers at FC Bayern and the Allianz Arena as well as people with disabilities - a concept was developed and the foundations were laid for a great infrastructure on which we can continue to build today."
"Inclusion is anchored in the values of FC Bayern and was important in the construction of the Allianz Arena from the very beginning."
Mr Muth, what was the status quo 15 years ago - and what is it like today?
Muth: "In 2002, when we had been planning the Allianz Arena for just three months, we sat at the table for the first time with representatives from the "Rollwagerl 93 e.V." fan club, which has accompanied us throughout ever since. It was enormously important to talk to each other at a very early stage, to get to know their needs. After the first meeting, FC Bayern, for example, were willing to do without some rows of seats so that the wheelchair users would not miss goals scored when fans jumped up in front of them. That was a very big issue at the time. Since then, we have almost doubled the capacity".
How was that possible?
Muth: "It used to be that the chaperone sat next to the person in the wheelchair. Now they sit behind them on a kind of bar stool. Exchanging ideas and suggestions with the people concerned is also extremely important for these types of ideas and suggestions. It exists still today. On matchdays, Rollwagerl 93 e.V. also has its own office where people meet, where they get coffee and cake, where they plan outings. It's just important to always listen and try to find solutions. Just recently we completely renovated our toilets for disabled people. FC Bayern also pay a great deal of attention to issues like this. This is shown, for example, by the fact that we have Mr Krämer, the disability fan representative, who is always available to listen to people. It's no coincidence that the Allianz Arena has already been honoured twice by the Bavarian Ministry of State as a role model for wheelchair accessibility."
Mr Krämer, how big is the rush for tickets?
Krämer: "The demand for tickets at FC Bayern Munich is always extremely high, regardless of the category. The ticket department at FC Bayern has a team of experts who are exclusively responsible for issuing tickets to people with disabilities. As the requirements for people with disabilities in particular require extraordinary know-how and a great deal of flexibility, this is also of great importance. Let's put it this way: this team has a lot to do".
Mr. Muth, is there any criticism from those involved?
Muth: "I would describe the cooperation as highly constructive, we meet several times a year. But I don't want to make a secret of the fact that there are sometimes discussions about how much is possible and reasonable. Of course, sometimes you come up against limits."
Have you got examples?
Muth: "It would be easier for fans in wheelchairs if they could receive their goods at a lower counter at the kiosk. However, this is about the needs of 100 fans on the east side, where a total of around 25,000 fans sit. We have looked for alternatives in this area. Our catering partner DO & CO were immediately prepared to provide a service to bring food and drink to fans in wheelchairs. A good solution for everyone. We all know each other well by now - and the fans in wheelchairs, fans with hearing and visual impairments, fans with disabilities and their chaperone know that we have always done our best to meet their needs."
Mr. Krämer, if you had one wish: where would there be room for improvement?
Krämer: "There is always something to do in the area of disability work and inclusion, because the topic is also constantly evolving here, having seats for people with autism and, for example, a certain number of wheelchair places in the premium seating areas is a very prominent topic at the moment, throughout Europe. Furthermore, the area of digital accessibility will continue to keep us very busy in the coming years".
Mr Muth, they say that football has a unifying character - do you remember a special story about inclusivity?
Muth: "There's one that has moved me most over the years here. There was still just the skeleton of the building, there were no lifts yet, we'd already had our first meeting with wheelchair users. The construction workers carried the invited people up the stairs in their wheelchairs, and there was a little 'wheelchair race' on the walkway. Who will be the first to arrive at the place where they'll later watch FC Bayern football matches? When the wheelchair users arrived, I saw many tears of joy. They realised at that moment: In the past, in the Olympiastadion, they sat miles away from the goals. Here, they'd have the best seats in the Allianz Arena. These tears from grown men moved me deeply. I admit: I choked up."
There are also special offers for people with visual and hearing impairments: visually impaired reports and smartphones with subtitles. What has been the response to this?
Muth: "Very good, right from the start. The need was there - and we have employees in our ranks who are passionate about it. At the moment we are still limited by the number of devices we have (20 devices each), but that can improve in the future."
In what way?
Muth: "The goal is to offer the service via the FC Bayern app. We have very powerful wifi. If everyone brings their headphones and takes their mobile phone with them, they can then access the service. That would then be another real big step forward."
The goal of the arena is always to be "state of the art". Can this be achieved even with these special requirements?
Muth: "I'm confident when I say that we're number one in Germany. There is no other stadium that has this number of seats for wheelchair-using fans. But it has to be said that we were very lucky to be able to replan for the 2006 World Cup. The issue of inclusion was then already far more in focus than it would have been 20 or 30 years earlier."
"Purple Light Up" is the motto of the campaign today - what would be a success?
Muth: "A success would be to make this enormously important topic even more present in the public eye. Particularly at a time when unfortunately there is only one topic on everyone's minds, I was especially happy with the campaign. I'd even go further: "AllAbility" means not only people with disabilities to me, but also the challenge that our ageing society brings with it. This is something that not only we as a sports venue have to take into account, but society as a whole."
Mr Krämer, what do you hope to gain from the "glow" of FC Bayern?
Krämer: "We hope that the radiance of FC Bayern will have a positive effect on other areas of society. In the past, FC Bayern has always proved that it is willing to co-operate well with fans or people with disabilities - and that appropriate solutions can be developed and provided."