It has been two days since that now-infamous game at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena. Bayern Munich were winning 6-0 against Hoffenheim, when fans at the away end held up a banner that crudely insulted German billionaire Dietmar Hopp, the chief financial backer of the Sinsheim-based club. The stadium erupted into loud jeers, and the referee stopped the play.
The situation only escalated from there. Even after the players and Hansi Flick pleaded with their fans to put away the banner, the Bayern away section pulled out a new one repeating the same insult. Following DFB protocol, the referee took the players off the pitch, and the entire game was put into doubt. Eventually, proceedings were restarted, but no more football was played — in a mark of solidarity with Hopp, the players of both teams passed the ball around aimlessly for fifteen minutes.
After the game, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Hansi Flick issued strong statements condemning the actions of the fans, and this sentiment was echoed in the media. This has all been well documented on Bavarian Football Works, as our own Davis VanOpdorp was present during the incident and spoke with Rummenigge afterward.
However, one side that has yet to be represented is that of the Bayern ultras themselves. Lacking the platform of Hopp and Bayern’s top brass, one of the main ultra groups posted an explanation on suedkurve-muenchen.org. This explanation gives more background on the nature of the protests against Hopp and the DFB, and why the ultras took such drastic measures. Here is the statement by Red Fanatic Munchen in full, as translated by @BorussianMyth on Twitter:
So I’ve taken the liberty of translating the statement from recently banned Bayern ultra group, “Red Fanatic Munich”, and have added a few annotations as well for context. It’s an absolute must read and I think Red Fanatic did a fantastic job explaining their side #Hopp pic.twitter.com/Y0INHb4u3X— Max (@BorussianMyth) March 2, 2020
If you don’t wish to read the entire statement as translated on Twitter, then here are the highlights, framed as answers to some common questions regarding the incident:
Why use such a crude insult?
It was clear to us that our banner for the game against Hoffenheim yesterday would surely attract media attention, and was therefore knowingly chosen. The choice of words was not our usual style, but rather a clear reference to the sanctioned banners from Dortmund supporters.
What was the protest for?
For numerous fan scenes, the collective punishment against the entirety of Dortmund’s support [referring to the banning of BVB away-fans at Hoffenheim] crossed the line, and the logical response to this was the expressions of solidarity shown in many stadiums across Germany.
Was the response justified?
Regardless of the reasons for our aversion and the coarse choice of words, which you do not have to agree with, we are especially horrified by the undifferentiated and completely exaggerated responses at all levels.
What did the DFB do wrong?
It is hardly surprising that the DFB let itself be influenced by one of their patrons and broke their promise to waive collective penalties [in the case of BVB supporters].
This was just one more instance of their vanishingly low commitment to the promises made by the association itself. What is significantly more frightening, however, is the fulfillment of Dietmar Hopp’s demand from 10 years ago, for criticism of himself and “his” club to be equated with racial discrimination and to be punished accordingly.
(Context: In 2007 Mainz Director Heidel criticized Hoffenheim’s place in the Bundesliga. Hopp compared this criticism to racial discrimination and demanded equal punishment. The ridiculousness of this claim is a big reason why Dortmund fans are so crude in their insults towards Hopp.)
Why does this matter?
This trivializes and ridicules the victims of actual racial hostility and acts of violence and highlights the DFB’s failure to punish actual incidents of such nature. In addition, between the appointment of integration officers and PR campaigns, the DFB demonstrates a simple lack of interest in clear concepts of action against discrimination.
Instead, the efforts have long been centered around passivity and an attempt to play down this area of social responsibility.
How has the DFB failed to combat racism?
The still very present cases of racist statements from Schalke chairman Clemens Toennies and racial abuse suffered against Hertha BSC player Jordan Torunarigha and the respective lack of consequences exemplify this.
For context, here is what Clemens Toennies said (via BBC):
Toennies told a news conference last week that more power stations should be built in Africa instead of increasing taxes to protect the environment.
“Then the Africans would stop cutting down trees and produce babies when it is dark,” the 63-year-old added.
However, the German club said claims of racism were “unfounded”, despite calls for Toennies to resign.
His punishment? He temporarily stepped down from the Schalke board for three months.
Is the reaction misguided?
Comparing a mere insult in the form of banners or chants to racially motivated acts is simply idiotic. The media, the hierarchy, and the players are also lacking substance (in their statements). Angry comments and appeals for more tolerance on social media are missing any real self reflection.
On the other hand, active engagement against incidents of antisemitism, homophobia, and racism are rarely on the agenda. Instead of empty words, actions should also follow.
Opinion: Why these protests needed to happen
Despite what most accounts would have you believe, this protest by Bayern’s ultras was a necessary and important step in highlighting the double-standards present in the DFB and German football. Whether or not you agree with their stance, or the message of solidarity that they promote, the reaction to the ultras has exposed the culture of German football’s top brass in a way nothing else could.
Schalke, for example, have just announced that they will enact a “one-step-plan” to combat hate, violence, and defamation. The players will refuse to play if there are any hateful chants, banners, or noises at any home games this season. This is from the club that let a racist board member go with a slap on the wrist, reinstating him after a mere suspension. The lack of self-awareness is staggering.
German football is at a crossroads, and the ultras and the DFB are at the center of it. If modern values of tolerance and acceptance are to be promoted, then these protests are necessary. The DFB must now decide what course of action to take. If they wish to follow through on their commitments, then the status-quo must change.