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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Opinion: Calling off a professional match a clear statement against racism

The abandonment of a third-division match in Duisburg showed solidarity in the fight against racism in football. This is the backbone that has sometimes been lacking in the past, writes DW’s Stefan Nestler.

By calling off a match for the first time in German professional football history, referee Nicolas Winter sent a clear signal against racism.

After Aaron Opoku, a 22-year-old player for third-division club Osnabrück, was insulted with monkey sounds from the stands during the match at Duisburg, Winter immediately stopped the game. The teams left the field. After Winter spoke to the emotionally shaken Opoku and representatives of both teams, he decided not to proceed with the match. Everyone, himself included, was shocked, Winter said, speaking of a “traumatic” event “in already trying times.”

Straight to step 3 

With this decision, the referee went further than required under the regulations. Since 2017, FIFA, football’s world governing body, has required all member associations, including the DFB (German Football Association), to follow a “three-step procedure” in the event of racist or discriminatory incidents: First, the referee is to stop the game and ask the PA announcer to make an announcement. If further incidents occur, he is to send the teams to their dressing rooms — temporarily. If this also fails to stop the abuse, he is required to stop the game.

DW Sports editor Stefan Nestler

In response to the incident in Duisburg, referee Winter fast-forwarded to the third step.  And he was right to do so, because it demonstrated to everybody in the stadium that racism must not be tolerated; no ifs, ands or buts. In the past, the DFB has been rightly accused of not taking a clear-enough line when specific incidents have occurred — despite its stated commitment to combatting racism.

Experts on racism, such as Gerd Wagner from Germany’s Fan Project Coordination Office, had long called for a precedent to be set by abandoning a professional match in such circumstances.

A precedent for the Bundesliga

Now it has happened. Not only did the referee behave in an exemplary manner, but so did both clubs by declaring their solidarity with Opoku and not playing any further. So did the fans in the stands who identified the person who allegedly shouted the racist insults. The suspect is facing criminal charges. Not just that, but supporters of both clubs chanted: “Nazis out!” The anti-Nazi song “Schrei nach Liebe,” (Shout for Love) by the German pop band Die Ärzte rang out through the PA system. Among its lyrics are the German words for: “You’re really as stupid as can be. (…) You have to have everything explained to you, because you really don’t know anything.”

As sad as every incident of racism is, the united reaction at the third division match in Duisburg this weekend was encouraging. It was a clear signal to racists that they are not welcome in football grounds or anywhere else. It can only be hoped that the next time this sort of incident occurs in the Bundesliga, it will be dealt with just as clearly as this one in the third division was. That will be the real test of how serious the DFB is about fighting racism.


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