Many observers of Germany and particular of the East during the 1990s could have been forgiven to think that the country may be on a worrying development. The former communist East saw a rise in racist incidents. The West of Germany was not immune either. It is almost thirty years ago that the Berlin Wall signalled the end of the Cold War and brought about one German state. Yet, the problems of racism persist, possibly now more than ever as the case of Babelsberg shows.
To understand the thread of this post, it is necessary to recall events at a football match last year in Germany’s fourth division between Babelsberg 03 and Energie Cottbus. Both clubs have had their own share of success. Before 1989 Cottbus were a team going up and down between first and second division in the East German Oberliga, while Babelsberg never reached higher than the second division. Their fifteen minutes of fame came in 2001 when Babelsberg played a season in Bundesliga 2 but were relegated. Cottbus were once the only team from East Germany to play Bundesliga and managed to reach a DFB-POKAL final. Both clubs, Babelsberg and Cottbus shared a similar fate on the pitch. Off the pitch, both could not be more different. While Babelsberg have an openly left leaning supporters base, the Cottbus camp have a reputation of being racist.
Their league meeting in April 2017 has consequences that are still reverberating today and has caused a new hashtag on twitter. On that day, fans of Cottbus caused the play to be interrupted twice, both sets of fans threw fireworks. Supporters of Cottbus were seen giving the Hitler salute and chanting racist songs. Yet, what really escalated the matter was the aftermath of the match. There was an investigation into what has happened on the terraces of the Karl-Liebknecht-Stadium in Potsdam, the home of Babelsberg. This is where it becomes interesting and where this investigation becomes a farce. Cottbus will face a punishment for the pitch invasions and fireworks that were thrown onto the pitch by their own supporters. Far worse, Babelsberg will be fined more than €7000 for fireworks but also for the fact that their supporters chanted ‘Nazi pigs out’. This of course led Babelsberg to contest the verdict and was the starting point for a dispute that still is not over. The club have refused to pay the fine which led the NOFV, the regional FA to threaten a ban from the league if this is not paid by February 14.
The NOFV have come under scrutiny in this case. In their verdict against Babelsberg it is stated that at no time were they aware that Cottbus fans raised their right arms or sang xenophobic and racist songs which were directed at the supporters of Babelsberg. Such a statement beggars belief as social media and TV coverage were full of evidence about the behaviour of Cottbus fans. Moreover, it looked as if those in charge of the NOFV are blind on their right eye. The saga does not end here. Now the DFB are getting involved and the NOFV seem eager to make their point. The verdict against Babelsberg has so far been unchanged whereas Cottbus’ punishment has been debated, changed and changed again. The original figure to be paid by Energie Cottbus was €16000 and there were three matches to be played behind closed doors. The damage this may cause was calculated to be in the region of €100000; no peanuts for club in the fourth division. It is now a mere €6000 and no one talks about playing in an empty stadium anymore. At the same time Babelsberg’s €7000 have remained the same for the incidents during one match only. This reeks of bias and has sparked a nationwide debate that Nazis and racists have nothing to do in football. The hashtag #nazisrausausdenstadien has proved to be popular over the last few days and Babelsberg have found strong support from the likes of Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund and St. Pauli among others.
This affair is a reminder that football is a mirror of society, always has been and always will be. Over the last few years, racists have become ever more encouraged to speak openly without fear of any consequences. That this has reached football should not be surprising anyone, yet that this goes without consequences even from the governing bodies of the most popular sport in Germany is worrying.