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Racism dispute: Schalke chairman under fire for comments

BERLIN (AP) — Schalke chairman Clemens Tönnies' decision to temporarily step down over comments widely condemned as racist has done little to quell anger with the German soccer club's response. Schalke said it welcomed Tönnies' decision to take a three-month break but then "resume in the same position" in charge of the club.

Fans blasted the Gelsenkirchen-based team's response after a late-night meeting of its honorary board on Tuesday. Schalke later said allegations of racism are "unsubstantiated" but "allegations of having violated club policy and (statutory) non-discrimination principles are justified."

Many fans had been calling on the 63-year-old Tönnies to resign over the comments he made on Aug. 1, when he told a public meeting in Paderborn that tax increases to fight climate change were wrong and claimed it was better to finance 20 power plants a year in Africa.

"Then the Africans would stop cutting down trees, and they would stop making babies when it gets dark," Tönnies said in comments first reported by the Neue Westfälische local newspaper. Tönnies, Schalke chairman since 2001, apologized for his comments.

Those remarks - and now the club's response - have been widely condemned. "We're disappointed because we expect and think it's right that there's another definitive solution," Manfred Beck of the Schalke Fan-Initiative group told Radio Emscher-Lippe on Wednesday. "Clemens Tönnies can no longer be the face of Schalke."

Tönnies had been speaking as head of the Tönnies Group, a meat-processing food giant with around 16,500 employees that specializes in the slaughter of pigs and cattle. The group posted revenues of 6.65 billion euros ($7.45 billion) last year.

"Mr. Tönnies clearly used racist resentments in his speech. To only speak of discrimination suppresses the racially discriminatory content of the statement and contributes more to its trivialization," Bernhard Franke of the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Kicker magazine called the affair an "unbelievable farce," while Der Spiegel magazine said it was "a setback for efforts to remove racism from football." Dagmar Freitag, chairwoman of the German parliament's sports committee, also criticized the club's response.

"For me it is more a case of racism than 'just' discrimination," Freitag told broadcaster NDR Info. Freitag called on the German soccer federation (DFB) for a "clearer stance" on the issue. Nikolaus Schneider of the DFB's ethics commission told news agency dpa that it will be discussing the case on Aug. 15. The commission can make charges to be dealt with by the DFB's court.

Germany's justice minister Christine Lambrecht spoke of "hollow racism" and Sylvia Schenk of Transparency International Germany said Tönnies had a "highly problematic mentality." Criticism came from within soccer circles, too. Andreas Rettig of second-division side St. Pauli said Tönnies had displayed a "lord's mentality," while former Schalke forward Gerald Asamoah, now in charge of the club's Under-23s, said he was "very surprised, shocked and also hurt."

Schalke plays in Germany's top tier. It finished 14th in the 18-team Bundesliga last season and has hopes of doing better this season under new coach David Wagner, a former United States international.

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

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