Racist incidents occur roughly four times a month in German football, according to Alon Meyer, president of Makkabi, the Jewish sports association in Germany.
“Dirty Jew” and comments like “You should be gassed” make clear that anti-Semitism is deeply entrenched in Germany’s footballing milieu right up to the present day – and a source of deep embarrassment to the footballing authorities.
Makkabi comprises 40 local clubs of different sporting codes and has around 4,500 members. Only around half of its playing members are actually Jewish.
“We’re multicultural,” said Meyer. But this is of little concern to football fans from the political right wing. For them “Jew” is an insult that is heard at games other than those involving Makkabi.
Robert Claus, who studies the behaviour of German football fans, was not at all surprised at the Nazi slogans chanted in the stadium during a Germany World Cup qualifier in Prague on September 1.
“Anti-Semitic incidents at internationals have a long tradition,” he said. “Right-wing hooligans see it as a demonstration of national power.”
The problem continues to be seen at games played in the top-tier Bundesliga, right down to the regional leagues and amateur football.
“Racism has been strongly suppressed in the Bundesliga stadia,” said Florian Schubert, a political scientist and sports scientist who is member of a major German fans association.
But he has also observed that the fans of certain clubs still exhibit this behaviour, often while making their way to and from the grounds.
Every football supporter knows the “Subway Song” in which fans threaten the opposing team with a subway train journey to Auschwitz.
“Over recent years this has tended to increase, with this song being sung in trains carrying fans to away games,” Schubert said.
He refers to an experience in April when SV Babelsberg met Energie Cottbus – two clubs in the fourth-tier North-East regional league.
“At least 150 Cottbus fans with their faces covered tried to rush the pitch, and some of them managed it over the course of the game,” he said. “On two occasions they ran to the opposing side to throw a Hitler salute”
The fans also shouted out the legend posted over the gates at concentration camps like Auschwitz “Arbeit macht frei” (Work liberates) and other slogans clearly referring to the Nazi regime, Schubert told dpa.
The Babelsberg supporters responded with “Get out Nazi pigs” as both sides let off fireworks, resulting in the game being halted twice.
Cottbus were fined 6,000 euros (7,060 dollars), and Potsdam 7,000 euros, the higher amount generating renewed animosity. Babelsberg president, Archibald Horlitz, called the ruling a “scandal” and said he would take it to court.
He also wrote to the president of the German federation DFB, Reinhard Grindel, calling for the DFB to shoulder its responsibilities and clear up the matter.
Right-wing fans have been observed at other clubs, including Aachen on the Dutch border and 1860 Munich – both in regional leagues – at clubs in the second division and at Borussia Dortmund, currently Bundesliga leaders.
There are also voluntary associations of fans striving to combat racism. In Cottbus and Aachen they have had to dissolve their groups, at least temporarily, after being threatened by extremist hooligans, Schubert said.
An expert report to the Federal Interior Ministry in 2016 found that anti-Semitic prejudice was expressed more directly and in more extreme form in football than in other social environments.
Claus believes that this is because football provides a clear enemy, a feeling of “us against them” that tends to devalue the opponents.
“At the same time, football is emotionally extremely charged, and there is this anonymous mass phenomenon where you can hide yourself well,” he said.
The DFB has been active in countering this, Claus believes: “It finances social work among the fans, awards prizes for work opposing discrimination and organizes working days”
Ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in Belfast on Thursday October 5, Grindel announced there would be stricter access regulations for European stadia in an attempt to avoid embarrassments like Prague.
“The big challenge in the DFB’s federal system lies in reaching all levels, state associations, teams, leagues and players,” Claus said. “There’s a lot still to do.”
Makkabi’s Meyer calls for “greater sensitivity.” Coaches and officials are under obligation to talk to their players about this, making clear that unsporting behaviour will not be tolerated, he says.
Sanctions on players should be imposed without delay and should include penalties for racist insults.
Schubert claims certain clubs turn a blind eye. “There are still clubs who look away when there is evidence of anti-Semitism or other discriminatory incidents and do not want to believe it,” he said.
“If they would face up to the problem, a start could be made to doing something about it.”(dpa)