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Bundesliga fan protests continue for second consecutive day

BERLIN (AP) — Protests against the German soccer federation and Hoffenheim backer Dietmar Hopp continued Sunday as Union Berlin’s Bundesliga game at home to Wolfsburg became the latest to be interrupted over banners held up by fans.

Referee Bastian Dankert twice stopped the game – first briefly after Union fans displayed banners slamming the federation (DFB) for going back on its 2017 decision to scrap collective punishment for fans after it banned all Borussia Dortmund supporters from away games at Hoffenheim due to their repeated abuse of Hopp – then again for 11 minutes before half time when the supporters held up a banner with the word “son of a whore” in front of another with Hopp’s face in crosshairs.

The teams eventually played out a 2-2 draw. During the second stoppage, stadium announcer Christian Arbeit told fans the game would be called off if it was halted for a third time. “Let’s play football,” he said before the game resumed for the rest of the first half.

The incidents followed similar protests against the DFB and Hopp by Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Freiburg fans on Saturday, and by Borussia Mönchengladbach supporters the previous weekend. The fans were reacting to the league’s decision on Feb. 21 to reverse the scrapping of its collective punishment of fans and issuing a two-year ban of Dortmund supporters from Hoffenheim’s stadium.

Hopp, the billionaire co-founder of the SAP software giant, has faced insults from fans of rival clubs ever since he financed Hoffenheim’s rise from obscurity to the Bundesliga. They object to his opposition to the league’s 50+1 rule, which protects clubs from takeovers by a majority stakeholder. Hopp was granted an exception in 2015 due to his long-term support of Hoffenheim.

On Saturday, Bayern fans unfurled a banner criticizing the DFB and calling Hopp a “son of a whore” during their team’s game at Hoffenheim. The game ended in farce with the players casually passing the ball around to each other for the last 15 minutes after referee Christian Dingert twice suspended play.

Union fans’ banners initially did not criticize Hopp directly, but ones unveiled later did, leading to the lengthy hold-up before half time. Union players went to their fans to ask then to take the offending banners down.

“Yes to protest, but when you insult people personally, then it stops. We said clearly that the banner has to come down. I find it good that we're on this track,” Union captain Christopher Trimmel said.

The suspension led to anger on the terraces toward the referee, the DFB and the fans responsible for holding up the banners against Hopp. Some Union fans got involved in heated arguments while others chanted against the DFB and were joined by their Wolfsburg counterparts.

Union striker Sebastian Andersson had scored against the run of play in the 41st, and another free kick from Trimmel led to captain Marvin Friedrich scoring Union’s second in the 57th. But Yannick Gerhardt pulled one back three minutes later, and Wout Weghorst scored Wolfsburg’s equalizer in the 81st.

Leipzig was held to a 1-1 draw by Bayer Leverkusen later Sunday, leaving Bayern with a three-point lead with 10 games to play. Werder Bremen’s game with Eintracht Frankfurt was called off as a result of Frankfurt’s Europa League game at Salzburg being delayed by storms to Friday.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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

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