Fourth-tier Babelsberg have reached an agreement with their regional football association to end a racism row that attracted attention across Germany. The club is now working to support others in tackling discrimination.After a months-long battle with the North-east German football association (NOFV), SV Babelsberg 03 have come out on top.
The source of the row was a home game that Babelsberg played against Energie Cottbus in April 2017 in which right-wing extremist chants were heard from the away end.
These initially went unpunished, but the NOFV ordered Babelsberg to pay a fine of €7,000 ($8,600) for what it described as “crowd trouble.” The statement announcing the verdict specifically mentioned chants of “Nazi pigs out” which were directed towards the Cottbus end in response to the right-wing chanting. The latter wasn’t mentioned.
The Potsdam-based club refused to pay the fine, not an easy decision for a fourth-tier amateur club that is hardly flush with cash. However, the club not only refused to pay up, but it launched a fund-raising campaign to support its already existing efforts to counter racism and right-wing extremism.
The story received broad coverage nationwide and a number of Bundesliga clubs including Werder Bremen, Borussia Dortmund, Cologne and Stuttgart began taking measures to support Babelsberg’s anti-racism efforts. Some of them set up donation boxes and many started selling merchandise in support of the cause.
No isolated battle
Now, that an agreement has been reached to resolve the differences between Babelsberg and the NOFV, the club’s president, Archibald Horlitz, has told DW that despite Babelsberg having had to pay the fine, he sees the fact that the whole sum will essentially be dedicated to the fight against racism and right-wing extremism as a victory for the club.
“I think it became obvious that this is about much more than a single club… It became a movement that involves many players, nationally and internationally, so for that I’m happy with the agreement that has been reached” Horlitz said.
The Babelsberg president believes that the support the club has received for its anti-racism efforts is not about to disappear as soon as the campaign stops. Babelsberg are now known all over Germany for having stood up to racism, and they intend to use this traction when other lower league clubs face similar cases of racism and discrimination.
“We feel an obligation to take the support we have generated and pass it on to other lower league clubs,” said Horlitz, who described those who stand up against racism in Germany’s lower leagues as “the real heroes.”
The battle is far from over
Babelsberg is located at the heart of the eastern German state of Brandenburg, where the far-right-wing Alternative For Germany (AfD) won 20 percent of the vote in September’s federal election, making them the second most popular party in the former East. Although the party denies being racist, it seems pretty clear that Babelsberg’s anti-discrimination stance won’t be popular with a lot of people in the region.
However, after having “won” its legal battle with the NOFV, Babelsberg are determined to fight on. The battle against right-wing extremism in German football may be far from over, but the next time there is a similar incident to what happened in April 2017, the Babelsberg precendent will already have been set.