In the Manuel Gräfe case, the Frankfurt/Main district court ruled that the age limit of 47 for top referees at the German Football Association is not legal. The former Bundesliga referee from Berlin receives compensation of 48,500 euros due to age discrimination. Nevertheless, the now 49-year-old Gräfe has no right to get back on the list of match officials at the DFB. This application for a declaratory judgment was wrongly made, said District Court President Wilhelm Wolf at the verdict on Wednesday.
“Whether we go to the next instance because of the amount of damages, Manuel Graefe will decide with us after receiving and examining the written judgment,” said his lawyer Olaf Methner on Wednesday. The DFB does not rule out going before the Frankfurt Higher Regional Court either. “We have taken note of the judgment of the first instance and will now wait for the written reasoning of the regional court in order to then be able to legally examine and evaluate the judgment,” said the association. Gräfe himself, who has to pay 80 percent of the court fees, was not present, nor were DFB representatives.
The verdict had been eagerly awaited by the association and the referees of the 1st and 2nd leagues. Gräfe had to end his Bundesliga career last year after 289 appearances due to age restrictions. He had sued the association, which he had publicly criticized several times in recent months, for compensation for age discrimination and potential loss of earnings for the 2021/2022 season in the amount of 190,000 euros.
However, the primary goal of the lawsuit is that “I would like to have it verified that age was the way to get rid of me,” Graefe emphasized during the hearing on November 16. The DFB denies this. In the court’s view, it was not legally relevant whether other reasons also played a role. And: Gräfe was not able to show that he would actually have been included in the list without the age limit.
A softening of the age limit could soon be possible
One day before the court ruling, former World Cup referee Felix Brych from Munich had announced that he wanted to continue refereeing in the Bundesliga at the age of 48 beyond this summer. The age limit is not stipulated in the DFB statutes, but has been common practice for many years. DFB referee boss Lutz Michael Fröhlich recently brought up a softening of the conversation. The 47 years should only be a point of reference.
Although the rules of the DFB do not set an age limit for referees in writing, there is actually an age limit of 47 years in practice, according to the court. Because the applicants are almost without exception no longer considered after this age and the association has also publicly stated the importance of this age for the end of a referee activity.
It was not explained why the age of 47 should be decisive for the performance of an elite referee.
From the judgment of the court.
As a result, it is arbitrary and therefore not justified according to the rules of the Anti-Discrimination Act to set a fixed age limit of 47 years. “For biological reasons, age is statistically relevant to suitability as a referee, because it reduces performance and increases the risk of injury,” according to the 16th Civil Chamber. “Why the age of 47 should be decisive for the performance of an elite referee was not explained, for example by scientific proof or a more detailed empirical value.” The court also missed a “transparent application process based on performance criteria” at the DFB.
“The discrimination has been confirmed! The joy on the pitch, evenings with colleagues/friends are still taken from me + the damage only partially compensated. Others are now spared it,” Graefe tweeted in a first reaction. The last time there were exceptions to the DFB’s age limit procedure was in the 1980s. (dpa)