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Richer than Abramovich, dismissive of vaccine deal with Trump and despised by diehard fans: meet German football boss Dietmar Hopp

Richer than Abramovich, dismissive of vaccine deal with Trump and despised by diehard fans: meet German football boss Dietmar Hopp
With an estimated net worth of $14.5 billion, Dietmar Hopp has more money than Chelsea chairman Roman Abramovich and has been under the spotlight even while German football has been suspended. Meet the controversial club owner.

Why did Hoffenheim’s game against Bayern end in farce?

The final 15 minutes of Hoffenheim’s last home game back in February were arguably the most remarkable and unremarkable ever witnessed in the Bundesliga.

With normal rules mutually halted, the hosts and visitors Bayern Munich ambled around the pitch in the rain, knocking possession around with no designs on advancing play.

The game ended 6-0 to the reigning champions, but the fans around the 30,000-capacity Rhein-Neckar-Arena applauded rather than signalling their discontent at the lack of action.

Bayern’s routine win had been halted as part of a three-step protocol after the fans of the visiting champions unfurled a banner in their corner that was immediately deemed a step beyond the hardly-angelic behavior hardcore supporters – known as ultras – are known for.

“Son of a whore,” read the flag, to the outrage of officials. Bayern were bemused by their own fans at first, concerned that their emphatic win would be wiped out if play did not resume, but with the outcome uncontentious, both sets of players agreed to play out the rest of the match in neutered fashion.

The first two letters of the insult in German, Du Hurensohn, had been colored in to denote the initials of Hopp, a 79-year-old whose divisive status might confuse many a casual onlooker exploring the Bundesliga for the first time when it becomes the first major football competition in Europe to return during the COVID-19 pandemic this weekend.

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Who is Dietmar Hopp?

Software billionaire Hopp watched the protests from the VIP seats, consoled with an arm around the shoulder from Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the Germany legend and executive board chairman at Bayern.

Since the late 1980s, he has sunk around $362 million into the outfit he once played for, lifting them from village competitors to the top level.

“I started to provide my hometown club, which had just been relegated, with financial support,” he told Sport1. “First and foremost, the idea was to promote youth work. That was the condition.”

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With the considerable assistance of their newfound riches, they arrested their slump and went from strength to strength, switching to a stadium named after their benefactor in 1999 before moving to their current home in 2009, a year after they first reached the Bundesliga.

In recent seasons, Hoffenheim have made their first two appearances in the Champions League and become self-sufficient without cash injections from Hopp, who has invested vast sums in philanthropic and health causes, as well as around $1.5 billion in start-ups.

What is Hopp’s connection to Donald Trump and a COVID-19 vaccine?

One of the companies that Hopp has invested heavily in is CureVac, a biopharmaceutical firm that has been working on a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

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In March, amid an escalating death toll in the US, an increasingly desperate President Trump contacted CureVac with a view to securing the patent to the vaccine for the US, reportedly offering around $1 billion for the privilege.

The famously intemperate head of state is unlikely to have been enamoured with the company’s response.

“I didn’t talk personally to Mr Trump,” revealed Hopp. “He spoke with the company and that was reported to me right away. I was asked what I thought about it and I knew immediately that this is out of the question.”

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Hopp has said his reason for turning down one of the most powerful leaders in the world is because he wants any vaccine to be available to all countries and classes and avoid being used as a tool for power. He still hopes that CureVac can find a cure for cancer.

Why are some fans in Germany hostile towards Hopp?

Although they won’t be allowed into stadiums when the season resumes on Saturday, fans are an integral part of football culture in Germany, which has some markedly different rules to most leagues.

One stipulation of ownership is an order known as the 50+1 rule, which prevents commercial investors from controlling more than 50 percent of a club.

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Hopp reached a deal which allowed him to sidestep the rule at Hoffenheim, an issue that continues to antagonize fans, who see him as a symbol of the commercialization of the sport.

The idea is partly to stop clubs from buying their way to success, but Hopp capitalized upon an addendum that accommodates owners who have consistently funded clubs for more than 20 years, and has been the target of vitriolic banners and chanting ever since.

Fans accuse him of stretching fair play ethics and distorting football by spending his way to the top, and his image among critics was little improved when a Hoffenheim club official was found to have piped a shrill noise over the tannoy to drown out songs against Hopp during one match, causing him to issue a letter of apology while claiming that supporters insulting him for 90 minutes were over-sensitive.

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His position has frequently led to further arguments: in 2017, Dortmund fans were banned for supporting their team at Hoffenheim for two visits in a move that supporter groups warned was in breach of a Bundesliga agreement to avoid disciplinary action being taken against fan collectives.

Clubs have also been known to contradict their own fans by apologizing for their behavior when they make their feelings against Hopp known.

What are the prospects for Hopp and Hoffenheim this weekend?

When the Bundesliga returns this weekend, ninth-placed Hoffenheim are at home to midtable Hertha Berlin, whose fans have already been noticed for protesting against issues including reported human rights breaches around the 2022 World Cup in Qatar this season.

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It is unclear whether fans of the clubs Hoffenheim are yet to play this season, who do not link Hopp’s philanthropy and scientific investments to their views on his impact on football, would have had a specific plan to protest against Hopp, but there is no chance of a similar stoppage as matches are being played behind closed doors in a bid to protect players, staff and the public from the virus.

Hoffenheim could rise to sixth and the European qualification places with a win, but their distance from the top four means they may be eyeing up new signings with the aim of reaching the Champions League again next season.

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