Happy families playing under one roof

Stephen Brenkley looks at the European multi-sport model which fosters collective strength
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The Independent Online
TWO seasons ago Bayern Munich won the European Cup. The record books will tell you that it was Milan, and in regard to football they are quite right. The continental trophy that winged its way to the Olympiastadion was for chess.

A few years before that Bayern almost won the European Cup for basketball. They are major players in table tennis, handball and tenpin bowling. Some of Germany's finest young gymnasts perform their call-isthenics under the auspices of the football club.

While Newcastle United's annexation of other games is perceived as revolutionary in England - and in some quarters it has been greeted with barely less astonishment than a plan for world domination by Tuesday tea-time - it is, like kilograms and centilitres, boring old normality across much of Europe. Real Madrid, for instance, have won the European Cup for basketball seven times, once more than they have lifted the football equivalent.

At Bayern, unbeaten at the top of the Bundesliga this season, the spread into other sports began in the late Fifties. Markus Horvick, the club's head of public relations, said it was realised that the popularity of the football club and its huge resources could help other games.

"Each of the different departments run themselves, but they are all part of the football club with one chairman at the head. This helps the club play a more significant role in the community. But there are other good reasons. Because of the other departments we are subjected to a special rate of tax."

Horvick said Bayern had developed into a sporting organisation with something for everybody. There were benefits for the club and the players in pooling resources and being part of an organisation with an internationally known name.

"But still, we should not perhaps forget what we started out as," he said. "Football is the standard-bearer and when people in Germany talk of Bayern they are talking of football. We have 43,000 members and 40,000 of those will be members because of the football."

In other German clubs football is not so dominant. Bayer Leverkusen's football team won the Uefa Cup in 1988 but is a Johnny Come Lately in terms of big achievements - they languished in the lower divisions until 1979.

But Leverkusen's basketball team are regular national champions and invariable European Cup qualifiers. Their athletics department has produced Olympic medallists like the decathlete Willi Holdorf, who won gold in Tokyo in 1964, the high jumper Ulrike Meyfarth (gold in Los Angeles) and the 5,000 metre runner Dieter Baumann (silver in Seoul). There were and are Olympic fencers and international hockey, tennis and handball players all with Bayer Leverkusen after their name.

"We all gain strength from each other," Uli Dost, the marketing man with the football section, said. "There are 19 different sports in the one club. Clearly, some are more popular than others but I wouldn't say that any are less important. Most of them are either professional or semi-professional. This has always been the way of things in Germany and as an organisation it certainly works. Youngsters gravitate to the club for coaching. Also, you can be pretty sure that if one department isn't winning, another one will be."

It is a similar story across much of the continent. In Spain, football and basketball are often enjoined under one roof, figuratively speaking. In Italy it is slightly more complicated. Clubs embracing different sports, sometimes football and rugby as in Newcastle's case, are frequently owned by one person.

"While there is one owner, each sport within a club must have a different president who must answer to his individual federation," said a spokeswoman at CONI, Italy's national Olympic body. This is partly aimed at eliminating corruption.

Mind you, it is possible, as with modern organised sport itself, that the combined idea began in England. You don't hear too much of one of the arms these days but it remains the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.