For a month the football press and the fans were witnessing a debate that has many observers left shaking their heads. It went way beyond football and could have far reaching consequences not just for football but society as a whole. What has happened?
In 2015 a young man called Bakery Jatta came from Gambia to Germany where he settled down. At the time has was just seventeen but nonetheless he started to play football in Bremen where he lived in an accommodation for migrants. He declined an offer from SV Werder Bremen as this would not have helped him in gaining a permanent residence. In early 2016 he went on trial at HSV and was promptly offered a contract which he could only sign once he turned 18 in early June 2016. Since then he is a player at Hamburg and has become a regular since autumn 2018. Ever since he arrived in Germany there were doubts about whether or not he is actually only seventeen or in fact older. The accusation is of forgery of documents for which he could prison if proven guilty. This however is difficult as his papers have been approved by the migration office as well as the DFB and the DFL. Therefore, there should not be any doubt about his identity unless there is evidence that this is not the case. He is not guilty so long there is nothing to show otherwise.
In early August Germany’s biggest sports paper Sport Bild published a story raising doubts about his identity. It states that Bakery Jatta is in fact Bakary Daffeh and at the time of entering Germany in 2015 he was already 19 years of age and therefore he has lied to the authorities. Sport Bild has contacted the club and the player with its research results; the latter has denied that the person on several photographs taken in Africa is not him, while the club has not responded.
Been There, Done That
Certainly, altering the age on a document is no small delict, and yet many of us have done so in order to get access to booze in the supermarket or to get into night clubs. There is nothing negative about it. I’ve done it when I was seventeen and I was not very successful. And even though being in my late twenties I have been ID’d in bars and supermarkets when buying alcohol. Changing the name is quite a different matter. For example, forgery of documents is a punishable crime in Germany and can lead to up to five years imprisonment. That of course can only happen if there is evidence. This has not been brought forward and therefore any debate about whether Jatta should play is futile.
However, there was a debate! Unfortunately, the current hostile climate permits this discussion to be spun further than many could have foreseen and has taken on dimensions reaching far beyond football. The bottomline of those who argue that the player should be banned and even expelled from Germany is that no foreigner should be allowed to live in Germany, let alone play football, the nation’s favourite sport. While it is without question that any society incorporates people harbouring racist thoughts it has come that this little group now seems to dictate the public discourse. So much so that so far three clubs have lodged complaints against the results of their matches with Hamburg: Nürnberg, Karlsruhe and Bochum. Karlsruhe have reasoned that the status of the licence of the player is still insecure and therefore consider the result, a heavy 4-2 defeat, invalid. This is futile as DFB and DFL have approved any paperwork presented by Jatta and therefore his licence and his passport are valid documents. Moreover, his club, Hamburg have spoken to the player in this matter and the player has insisted that he is Bakery Jatta and that he is 21 years of age. Of course he would. Why should he frame himself? That is a fact and should stand until proven otherwise: the presumption of innocence of Bakery Jatta should prevail. It is now up to those protesting to prove the opposite: the alleged true identity of Bakery Jatta and his true age. The fans of Karlsruhe jeered Jatta each time he had the ball, which led to a public outcry as such behaviour is unacceptable.
Many observers see the debate as a fatal sign. A year after the Özil affair during which the DFB has left the player out in the cold against vicious attacks from racists as well as politicians, the association is under immense pressure. As a consequence of the Özil debacle, the president of the DFB, Reinhard Grindel had lost almost all support and resigned in April 2019 citing the acceptance of a watch as a gift from a Ukrainian oligarch as reason, yet his reputation because of the Özil debacle by then was so low that he had no other option.
Almost a month later the case imploded as the district administration of Hamburg Mitte stated that the investigation will be stopped and declared the documents valid. A little later all three clubs who have so far lodged complaints against the results of the games against Hamburg have withdrawn their appeals. They are the real losers in this matter, not on the pitch but off it. They jumped on the waggon, racists are steering and have lost image, even though they jumped off it.
The paper which started the whole thing, Sport Bild has only reported that the case is now closed after the birth certificate has been shown and an affirmation from a local employee from Gambia. Sport Bild and Bild are part of the Springer Empire. Bild in particular has been one of the driving forces behind a surge of hate speech in recent years. It is this paper that more often than not agitated (and still agitates!!!) against migrants describing them as scroungers exploiting German society. Although an apology is necessary there won’t be any, they are just too busy looking for their next victim.
Jatta For Germany?
Now there are even rumours that Jatta may join the German national team. What a turn around this would be and what a resolute two finger salute towards the hate mongers in the German society.