The ugly aftermath of Clemens Tönnies’ racist remarks

Today the DFB ethic commission decided against furthering a DFB case against Clemens Tönnies.

The Schalke CEO made headlines after he gave a speech at the “Day of the Crafts in Paderborn on August 1st. In said speech, Tönnies spoke of his dismay about higher taxes being used as a tool by politicians to combat global warming. To top it all off, the 63-year-old food-industry magnate went on to say that 20 electricity plants should be built in Africa every year because, in his words:

“If we were do just that, the Africans would stop deforestation and they’d stop producing children when it gets dark.”

Tönnies’ comments were greeted with applause at the event. A little bit of racism went a long way in pleasing that crowd, it seemed. However, the German public didn’t take too kindly to said remarks. Several former Schalke players and fans were quick to condemn Tönnies, demanding that he should step down from his positions at the club.

Failure by Schalke, and now the DFB

Tönnies was quick to apologize, telling Schalke’s website:

“As the head of the board of FC Schalke 04, I stand 100 percent behind the values of the club. Part of those values are the fight against racism, discrimination and exclusion.

“Given this background, I want 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.”

His apology sounded empty to many and failed even to address those he’d insulted deeply by his overt racism. However, Schalke’s honorary council nonetheless decided to buy into Tönnies’s apology, accepting his suggestion of temporarily stepping down from all positions for a period of three months.

But Schalke’s fans were furious. During the club’s cup match against Drochtersen/Assel, the away support from Gelsenkirchen showed their disgust for the Schalke chairman with a display featuring several red cards and a banner reading “Tönnies out”.

So far, though, nothing much has happened in terms of an official response, and Tönnies seems to be counting on the matter simply going away as time passes. In the meantime, however, several high-ranking Bundesliga officials have come to his aid, stating that the campaign for Tönnies to be ousted was going too far.

Today, the DFB ethics commission was the next in line to give its verdict regarding Tönnies’s remarks. The commission concluded that the meat manufacturer’s remarks were clearly racist, but the three lawyers and the theologian making up the committee didn’t go any further than that in their criticism.

Instead, they actually went in the other direction. In their verdict, they stated that they were convinced by the fact that Clemens Tönnies wasn’t a racist. The 63-year-old had stated that he was deeply involved in development projects on the African continent. Furthermore, apparently nobody in Tönnies’s circle had heard the Schalke boss utter any racist remarks before August 1st, the committee went on to state.

And rather than punishing him, the committee suggested that Tönnies should be made the face of the DFB’s next anti racism campaign.

No credibility left

The fact that rich white men seemingly can get away with anything as long as they have powerful friends seems to be more true than ever these days. Tönnies’s remarks should have seen him let go by Schalke and be given a hefty punishment by the DFB. Instead, he gets to call himself an anti racism activist in the not too distant future. This in itself would be laughable, if it wasn’t so incredibly sad.

Today’s verdict is a kick in the teeth to those who have worked tirelessly against racism within German football over many years. It emboldens right-wing fans: if Tönnies gets away with it, why shouldn’t they?

Furthermore, it also leaves the DFB with little or no credibility when it comes to matter of racism. How on earth can the German FA go on condemning the likes of the Chemnitzer FC fans for their disgusting behaviour, when it can’t even decide to punish blatantly racist remarks by a footballing executive?

It’s now up to the fans to show their dismay and to demand that justice should be served.

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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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