Supporters around the country showed their inventive side as they displayed witty banners addressing a host of issues without resorting to the personal insults against Hoffenheim billionaire backer Dietmar Hopp that led to games being stopped the previous weekend.
The federation had warned that a repeat of the insults or banners with cross hairs would lead to games being suspended and potentially called off. There was chaos in the league last week when fans targeted Hopp and the federation, which had instructed referees to use FIFA’s three-step procedure for dealing with the abuse — a measure originally developed for combating racism. It almost led to the abandonment of two games after referees went to Step 2.
Union Berlin president Dirk Zingler criticized the federation in an interview with Die Welt newspaper on Friday, saying it had lost touch with the majority of supporters in Germany and that its authority was damaged after years of scandals.
Federation presidents Theo Zwanziger, Wolfgang Niersbach and Reinhard Grindel were all forced to step down amid corruption allegations before former Freiburg president Fritz Keller took over last year.
“If (the federation) believes that it can treat people and organizations like it has for the last 10 or 20 years, then it doesn’t work,” Zingler said. The federation said Friday that it had gone too far in implementing the three-step procedure and that criticism from fans should be permitted as long as it wasn’t hateful or defamatory.
The supporters needed no second invitation. Mainz fans said the federation's priorities were skewed. “World Cup arranged through bribery, presented as a fairy tale, slavery ignored, racism talked away, and now unashamedly courting an insulted billionaire,” read a banner during Mainz’s game with Fortuna Düsseldorf on Sunday. “Every value is all the same. Whoever has money has the morals!”
Rummenigge was a target for describing the previous weekend’s protests as the “grotesque face of soccer.” In Dortmund, fans held pictures of Rummenigge, Hopp, federation president Fritz Keller and others with red clown noses behind a banner saying “The grotesque faces of soccer.”
Hertha Berlin fans held banners saying “Bribes, collective punishments, deaths in Qatar. It’s clear who the grotesque face of football is.” Freiburg fans criticized Keller, who was president of their club before he took over at the federation: “Back to collective punishments. Racism relativized. Deliberately escalated. Fritz Keller — nothing understood.”
They also said the federation was Hopp’s soccer federation. Schalke fans apologized to prostitutes for linking them to Hopp, and they criticized their own club’s stated stance on discrimination while failing to properly address racist comments made by Schalke chairman Clemens Tönnies at the beginning of the season.
Bayern supporters showed a banner with the federation's logo crossed out and a list of complaints against it: Collective punishment, unfair ticket prices, video assistance in games, the loosening of the 50-plus-1 rule to protect clubs from investor takeovers, the banning of pyrotechnics at games and more.
The Bayern fans also criticized Rummenigge. “The very grotesque face of Bayern is shown by those who take blood money from Qatar and Co.,” a banner read. They could be the last protests for some time. Fears over the spread of the coronavirus are likely to see the next set of games go ahead without spectators.
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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP