Schalke Show Poor Judgement after Clemens Tönnies’ Racist Remarks

Schalke’s head of board Clemens Tönnies got himself into hot water after a speech at the Day of the crafts in Paderborn last Thursday. He remarked that taxation wasn’t a solution to global warming. Instead, the meat billionaire continued, one should “build 20 electricity plants in Africa every year. That would stop deforestation and they’d also stop producing children when it gets dark”.

After the German newspaper NW made these comments public in article on Friday, Tönnies was widely criticized for his remarks. Former Schalke player Hans Sarpei took to Facebook to show his disgust, whilst the 63-year-old Tönnies hastily apologized. Tönnies wrote in his statement:

“As the head of the board of FC Schalke 04, I stand 1000 percent behind the values of the club. Part of those values are the fight against racism, discrimination and exclusion. Given this background, I want to explicitly apologize to you, the fans, the members and friends of FC Schalke 04, for the comments I made during the “Day of the Crafts”. It was wrong, not thought through and thoughtless and it doesn’t live up to our values. I’m very sorry.”

Support from within the club

Both Schalke’s board and the club’s head of sport Jochen Schneider came out in support of Tönnies on the same day, stating that the remarks were unfortunate, but that they knew that the man wasn’t a racist. Additionally, Schneider remarked that the butcher’s son had apologized and that one moves on after a prompt apology.

The club decided that the honorary council of Schalke 04 should look into the matter. Today, the verdict came in, and it was shocking to most people. The council stated in its verdict:

“After several hours of deliberation, the council has reached the conclusion that the accusation of racism leveled against Schalke head of board Clemens Tönnies are unfounded.

However, he has to face up to the fact that he went against the club’s values stating that any form of discrimination isn’t tolerated by the club.”

Tönnies himself suggested that he should stand back from his role as head of the board for the next three months. The club stated that he had shown contrition about his remarks.

Clearly the wrong decision

The fact that Schalke’s honorary council found it in themselves to brand Tönnies comments as not racist rubs most fans up the wrong way. For most followers of the league it seemed inevitable that the 63-year-old should be relieved of his duties at the club. Besides the man deliberating over Tönnies fate, it seems obvious to most people that discrimination using racial stereotypes can’t be labelled as anything else, but racism.

Leaving aside that Tönnies’s remarks are factually untrue, as the entire continent of Africa doesn’t emit as much CO2 as Germany alone and that the meat production industry Tönnies is a part is one of the worst contributors to global warming, the question remains: What on earth was the man thinking putting these words down into a speech. He surely must have gone over his speech at least once before uttering these words.

At the end of the process he thought that it was a good idea to utter these words. This wasn’t a blip. It was planned. As such there’s little doubt that Tönnies couldn’t see what was wrong with these words.

If these words were spoken by an average fan during a visit to the stadium, this fan would probably receive a stadium ban DW journalist Felix Tasmut pointed out on Twitter. The question remains why these rules aren’t applied to the head of board at Schalke?

Should fans be allowed to utter such racist nonsense and get away with it as long as they apologize afterwards? Should racism and discrimination only be a yellow card offense when it comes from the fans, or would we like to see the clubs in the league take drastic action when it occurs?

Of course we would. Not doing so clearly shows that one doesn’t care all too much about the problem. In Tönnies case the precedent is now set that Schalke as a matter of fact don’t take racism too seriously (not even brandishing it clear cut racism as such). Or maybe its just the top brass at the club that gets away with it? In either case, the message that the club has sent out is a hard one to swallow for most fans and followers of the Bundesliga.

Add to that on top that Tönnies’s apology was not even aimed at the people he actually spoke in such derogatory terms about, and you wonder why Schalke’s honorary council even thought that this half hearted and empty apology was going to sway anybody.

Gelsenkirchen is a community that consists of 19% immigrants. Many of these kids have made a name for themselves at Schalke and gone on to great careers. Schalke showed pride in their anti discrimination work when the club publicly stood up against racism during a wave of attacks on refugee centres.

Outrage by the fans and the media

The press in Germany and Schalke fans are right in pointing out that the honorary council’s decision to give Tönnies a pass on the accusation of racism is a cowardly move. Over the years the 63-year-old has brought a lot of money into the club, not least through the Gazprom sponsorship deal. It doesn’t come as a surprise that he is a good friend of Vladimir Putin.

Given the fact that this man has boasted about his relationship with a despot and that he has shipped in workers from East-Europe and allowed them to live under questionable conditions should in itself be reason enough to wonder why this man still holds a position within a football club like Schalke that prides itself on its working class background.

There’s little doubt that Schalke’s fans are going to make their voices heard over the course of the next few month. Tönnies has become and embarrassment to the club and the way this case was handled might leave irreparable damage.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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