After the almost abandoned match against Hoffenheim: Distancing is not the answer

Justin Separator March 2, 2020

This text appeared first on n-tv.de. I have been allowed to publish it here on our blog.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, FC Bayern’s CEO, showed himself deeply ashamed on Saturday afternoon. What had happened? Supporters of his club had held up two banners insulting Dietmar Hopp as a “son of a bitch”. He added that the fans who were responsible for that would be held accountable. Had one not known what the whole thing was all about, it would hardly have occurred to anyone that it was this particular insult that would trigger the waves of outrage that have been shaking up the Bundesliga since Saturday afternoon. 

The urgency with which all the people involved including the media representatives suddenly started working for a better (football) world was quite remarkable. A call to action that one would have wished to have come earlier for even more urgent cases by comparison. Apparently there had been a clear announcement from the DFB before this matchday that they would crack down on fan protests with unprecedented rigour. According to a well-informed source, however, the clubs were not informed of the DFB’s intentions until shortly before kick-off.

The so-called “three-stages model” has been in existence at the DFB for many years. However, it is to be used more frequently from now on. Stage 1 provides for an announcement by the stadium announcer. In stage 2, this is followed by a temporary interruption of the match, during which the players will leave the field, as seen in Sinsheim. Stage 3 sees the total abandonment of the game, which would have occurred had there been any further action taken by the Bayern supporters. 

Cristcism must not be a one-way street

This model had not been consistently implemented before this weekend. And it is exactly this what gives rise to doubts about the sudden severity of the DFB’s actions. The fans who insulted Hopp certainly did FC Bayern no service, which could possibly explain the gravity of the reactions by the club. After all, for a time it seemed that they had it entirely in their hands to jeopardise a safe 6-0 victory for their team and thus also endanger their club’s goals in the championship. 

Fans of FC Bayern almost provoked an abandonment of the game with their banners.
(Image by Matthias Hangst/Bongarts/Getty Images)

But that’s the point. People have chosen to risk the success of a club that makes up a considerable part of their lives. People who travel all across the world to support their team and who, for their part, have played a major role in ensuring that racism is not an even bigger problem in German stadiums than it already is. The question of what drives these hardcore fans to jeopardize the success of their club should therefore not be dismissed with a simple act of ostrazisation, with the good guys on one side and the villains on the other. This problem is just too deep for that. Conversely, this does not mean that there is any justification for insulting Dietmar Hopp as a “son of a bitch”. But it does mean that the case is more complex than simple black and white thinking. 

Insults, threats and aggressiveness have no place in football. Bayern fans have crossed a line here. But what is the relationship between the reaction of the DFB and the media? The fuss that was made this weekend should have been made in the earlier racism scandal surrounding Hertha professional Torunarigha, for example. Or when Schalke’s Clemens Tönnies made his racist remarks last summer. Or whenever referee Bibiana Steinhaus ist faced with sexism. And while we are on the subject, we should also mention one or two sexist banners that have appeared in various fan blocks in recent months. All these incidents did not lead to any significant consequences. They were briefly discussed in the media, but quickly discarded again. 

Whataboutism is appropriate here

The accusation of whataboutism is quickly made at this point. But all these cases can be compared simply because the DFB has to compare them in order to establish a clear line. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge rightly said that the DFB and the clubs had not taken any action for far too long and that it was now finally time to act. But the fact that an example is now being set in the case of Dietmar Hopp of all people has an odd ring to it. You could make the case that it reflects a more general state of our society, including its structural problems. 

The outcry about Dietmar Hopp being called the son of a prostitute reached an unprecedented level on Saturday. Kai Dittmann commented on the events at Sky as if he had just witnessed an assassination attempt. Here, too, the response seemed out of proportion to the event.

But the big question is: Will this energy be there in the future when the Bundesliga is embroiled in its next racism or sexism scandal? The Tönnies case alone casts doubt on that. Here too, the indignation eventually gave way to a series of displays of solidarity – interestingly in favor of the powerful functionary. What were the consequences he had to face? He kept a low profile in public for three months and now he is back in his old position.

Several abandoned matches every weekend?

The DFB has now set a standard against which it must be held in the coming months. What happens if Timo Werner is once again called a “son of a bitch”? But the perhaps even more important question is: Will the DFB also react when supporters of one club insult supporters of another with banners or even yell sexist remarks, as has often happened in the past? Where is the line?

“11Freunde” editor-in-chief Phillip Köster is right when he writes on Twitter that insults and verbal abuse have been a part of football for decades. You do not have to, and should not, approve of them, but if the DFB aborts every game in the future in which fans call someone a “son of a bitch”, regular weekend football will come to an end. It is right to finally take up the fight against insults and aggression, but the manner and occasion may be strongly questioned. And the unprecedented levels of energy yesterday’s events were able to release would have been needed in the fight on other topics more. 

Especially since the integration commissioner of the DFB, Jimmy Hartwig, wrote on Twitter just at the end of February regarding the many racist incidents: “When you are in the stadium and hear these shouts, then go up to these people and say: ‘We want to watch football!”” So, as far as racism is concerned, is rebuke by the audience the solution? This is no longer consistent with the events of the weekend.

Further entrenchment of the positions will only make the situation worse

There is no question that yesterday’s course of action should be seen in the context of the incidents in Gladbach last weekend, where Hopp’s face was shown in the crosshairs on a banner, and the exclusion of Dortmund’s away fans at Hoffenheim for the next two years. However, the DFB’s stand now conveys a picture that appears to give much more weight to the comparatively minor incidents of this weekend than to racism, sexism and other, far worse cases. 

A direct consequence of this weekend will probably be a renewed restriction of the rights of fans who had nothing to do with what happened. Furthermore, the fronts between supporters and officials will become even more entrenched. Instead of seeking a dialogue on the matter, both sides may well resort to increasingly harsher measures in the context of such occasions in the future. And that ultimately will be a losing proposition for everyone. The fans who saw the need to indulge their stupid fancies even though they knew that this topic would become highly explosive. But also the DFB, who once again failed to find the right balance in dealing with it. Instead, it is setting an example in the Causa Hopp, after this opportunity was already missed with Mesut Özil, Tönnies and many other examples. 

At any rate, against this backdrop, a de-escalation seems highly unlikely in the coming weeks. On the contrary. Weighing up the severity of insults and the extent of discrimination of statements and actions may never have helped anyone. But this is precisely what the DFB has to do now in order to know where to draw a line. As of now, the insult “son of a bitch” weighs many times more than any sexism or racism scandal of recent months. It is incumbent on the DFB to apply the standard it has now set in the coming weeks, months and years, and to prove that, after Tönnies, Hopp is not just the next white, powerful man who is being protected here, but that there is a serious interest in excising hate, racism, and sexism from the stadiums. And even then it remains highly doubtful whether the theoretically necessary interruptions of matches every weekend are the right way to go.

»Eier, wir brauchen Eier!«

— Oliver Kahn

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  1. Thanks for the wrap-up. I’m quite disappointing too, to see a great performance with lost of encouraging now fades very quickly to the shadow of this incident. I’ll have to admin, though being a Bayern fans for over 2 decades, I don’t know much on the fans-side of the club, especially regarding the ultra, also in relation with German football and German culture, so may be I’m missing a few points here, but honestly I found the story kind of ridiculous. I was watching the match in my sofa, but with the sound being kept very low to not attract the attention of my little girl playing near by, so I couldn’t figure out what was happening. First time, then second time. I though something very very serious had happened, like someone died or a kidnapping blackmailing was going on. When the 2 teams all left the field I couldn’t help but grab my phone to do some quick Google, and all I found was “the match was interrupted because of a banner insulting someone”. I was like “what the heck?”. Make no mistake, I hate being rude to other people, I hate bad words and I hate impoliteness, but these kinds of insulting, I see them everyday on the street. In my opinion, this is stupid, but people have their right to be stupid, and to express their opinion, as long as they don’t harm anyone (OK the Hoffeinheim is being insulted), but does it worth overreacting like that? I understand the reaction from Rummenigge and Hainer are mainly for protecting the club, but that means this measure had to be taken under the threat of DFB doing something than can put a damp on this season. Is that really that serious this kind of protest?

    Also, one thing I love about this club, is the ultra fans, who follow the team everywhere, who always, sing, dance and urge the players on the field no matter what and where thing is happening. A lot of away games feel like home game, even via television, thanks to these fans. Did the protest on Sartuday also come from this group of fan? If it is, is the club running the risk of turning its back to their own hardcore fans, and vice versa?

    And seriously could we just forget about all of these and have a proper football discussion about that 6-0?

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