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German Bundesliga club chairman steps down for three months following ‘racist’ slur

Clemens Tönnies has stepped down for three months as chairman of German Bundesliga club Schalke following widespread condemnation of alleged 'racist' comments he made last week.

German Bundesliga club chairman steps down for three months following 'racist' slur
Clemens Tönnies has been suspended by Schalke. Photo: DPA

The club's five-strong ethics committee, in a statement late Tuesday, accused Tönnies of having “violated the ban on discrimination contained in the club's statutes” after a lengthy meeting in which Toennies had to explain himself.

But the body dismissed the accusation of racism as “unfounded” and consequently spared him the heavier sanction of dismissing him.

The 63-year-old has been sharply criticized for saying more power stations should be built in Africa, “then Africans would stop felling trees and producing children when it gets dark”.

READ ALSO: Pressure grows for Bundesliga club boss to resign over racist comments

The billionaire businessman, who employs 16,500 people and has assets estimated by Forbes at around €2.2 billion, made the remark at a forum in Paderborn last Thursday while criticizing tax increases to fight climate change.

On social media, numerous Schalke fans and former players demanded his resignation as chairman of the club's supervisory board, while senior figures in German football and politics have condemned his comment.

'Devastating'

Politician Dagmar Freitag, the chairman of the sports committee in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, slammed the finding of Schalke's ethics committee.

“If I had pigeonholed an entire continent and its population, then it would be racism rather than 'just' discrimination, as far as I am concerned,” she told broadcaster NRD.

“Such lapses are a break in what is taboo, without scruples, and their effect on society is – especially in these times – devastating.”

Tönnies had apologized for his “inappropriate” words on Sunday, insisting he backs Schalke's values against “racism, discrimination and exclusion”.

Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht had previously called on the German Football Association (DFB) to “deal” with Tönnies.

“Racism must be loudly and clearly contradicted” at every opportunity,” the politician told the Funke media group.

“Nowhere is integration as successful and quick to work as in sport – that must not be put at risk.”

Cacau, the Brazil-born former Germany star who heads the DFB's integration committee, was also stunned by Toennies comment.

“The longer I think about it, the more unimaginable it becomes that a man of his position and experience speaks so… disparagingly about the population of an entire continent,” said the 38-year-old.

Former Schalke forward Gerald Asamoah, Germany's first black international, said he was left “somewhat speechless” by Tönnies remark.

“I have been working with Clemens Tönnies for a long time, and we have been close friends for a long time,” wrote the 40-year-old Asamoah on Instagram.

“He never behaved in a racist manner towards me.

“I was very surprised, shocked and injured by his statement.”

The comments are a distraction for North Rhine-Westphalia's Schalke, under new head coach David Wagner, who start their league season at Borussia Mönchengladbach on August 17th.

READ ALSO: Germany fans filmed shouting racist and Nazi chants turn themselves in

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RACISM

Black people in Germany face ‘widespread’ racism, survey finds

In the Afrocensus, a first-of-its-kind survey charting the lived experiences of black people in Germany, the vast majority revealed they experienced 'extensive' discrimination in almost all aspects of public life.

Dr Karamba Diaby
Dr Karamba Diaby, an SPD politician and anti-racism advocate, carries out voluntary work in his constituency of Halle, Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hendrik Schmidt

“The results of the Afrocensus indicate that anti-Black racism is widespread in Germany and anchored in institutions,” the authors of the new report said in a press release on Tuesday. “There is no area of life in which discrimination and racism are not extensive problems.”

Though the overwhelming majority of respondents said they had experienced discrimination at least ‘sometimes’ in almost all areas of life, housing was the area where they said they were discriminated against most often.

Just two percent of respondents to the Afrocensus said they had ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ experienced racism in the housing market, compared to more than 90 percent who said they had experienced it ‘often’ or ‘very often’.

READ ALSO: ‘Black lives need to matter in Germany’ New project to uncover racism in everyday life

Experiences with police and security personnel also counted among areas of life where racism was particularly prevalent: 88 percent of respondents had experienced discrimination from security staff ‘often’ or ‘very often’, while around 85 percent had had the same experience with police.

More than 85 percent had also experienced racism in their education or in the workplace ‘often’ or ‘very often’ in Germany. One in seven had lost their job during the Covid crisis. 

According to the report, 90 percent of respondents had also experienced having their hair grabbed, while more than half (56 percent) had been stopped by the police or asked for drugs by strangers.

Meanwhile, 80 percent said people had made comments about the colour of their skin or sexualised comments about their race on dating apps. A vast majority – 90 percent – also revealed they hadn’t been believed when they’d spoken out about racism in the past, or that people had said they were “too sensitive”. 

READ ALSO: OPINION: My experiences of everyday racism in Germany

In spite of widespread discrimination, almost half (47 percent) of the respondents were engaged and active in their community – mostly carrying out some form of social or voluntary work.

First of its kind

Based on wide-ranging data, the findings paint a vivid and concerning picture of what life is like for the one million or so black people living in Germany today.

To produce the report, researchers from Berlin-based Black community group Each One Teach One and Citizens for Europe conducted an extended survey of 6,000 black people from the Africans and Afrodiasporic community to try and discover more about on the everyday lives and experiences of this group. The survey was carried out between July and September 2020. 

It represents one of the first attempts to gather a wealth of quantitative data on this subject, and as such offers some of the first truly scientific insights into anti-Black racism in modern Germany.

“With the Afrocensus, we have succeeded in doing exactly what has long been demanded within the black community for a long time: making the realities of our lives visible within the framework of qualitative, but above all quantitative research,” Dr. Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana und Dr. Karamba Diaby wrote in a foreword to the report. 

Diaby, a high-profile politician within the centre-left SPD party, was one of only two Afro-German politicians in parliament when he first took his seat in 2013. He has since become known for promoting political engagement and empowerment within the migrant and black community. 

In January 2020, an unknown gunman fired shots through the window of his constituency office in Halle, Saxony-Anhalt, in a suspected racially motivated attack. 

READ ALSO: How people with migrant backgrounds remain underrepresented in German politics

Since the Second World War, Germany has avoided gathering data that allows people to be traced by ethnicity as a means of protecting persecuted groups.

However, critics say this approach only works to make the issues faced by these groups invisible. 

Writing on Twitter, Daniel Gyamerah, Division Lead at Citizens For Europe, called for an “action plan for tackling anti-Black racism and for empowering black, African and Afrodiasporic people” and the establishment of advice centres for people facing racism and discrimination.

More research into the intersectional experience of black people in Germany is needed, he added. 

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