Schalke vs. Hertha – Racism rears its ugly head, now what?

What Jordan Torunarigha experienced during Tuesday night’s DFB Pokal match is something that should be a thing of the past. As the Hertha player was on the pitch, he heard fans making monkey noises from the stands.

In the aftermath of the episode, questions have been raised about referee Harm Osmers’ conduct. Shortly before the match was going into extra time, the referee was approached by Hertha’s sporting director Michael Preetz. During their conversation, Osmers was informed about what had happened.

Despite receiving said information, the referee decided to play on as if nothing had happened. The reason for that decision, the DFB explained, was the fact that Osmers didn’t hear the chants as they were going on. Furthermore, they had happened far too long ago to warrant a message from the speaker asking the fans to obtain from such behavior.

According to FIFA rules, referees are supposed to take measures once they have been alerted to racist conduct coming from the stands. First in line is a message from the speaker as play asking the fans to abstain from such conduct. If said message doesn’t have its desired effect, the ref is supposed to take the teams off the pitch, whilst the speaker reads out one last message asking the fans to stop their racist chants. Finally, a game is abandoned if the first two measures haven’t led to cooler heads prevailing.

Osmers: More concerned about water bottles than racism

During the 120 minutes at the Veltins Arena, the referee made a number of questionable calls, but none of them come even close to his failing to protect a player who was racially abused. It is true that the fans who made the monkey noises were in the minority. Most spectators, many of the players, and the coaching staff of both teams didn’t hear said noises.

However, once the referee had been alerted to them, he should have taken action. Michael Preetz asked Osmers to protect a player who was in a particularly vulnerable place. Instead of doing so, the 35-year-old decided to give Jordan Torunarigha his marching orders after he had thrown a case of water bottles to the floor in the aftermath of a collision with Schalke coach David Wagner.

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Why safeguarding water bottles seems to be more important than condemning and fighting racism is a question that Osmers should have to answer in the aftermath of the match. Furthermore, the referee from Bremen knew what the player had faced so far during the match. Torunarigha was said to have cried on the pitch, wanting to walk of the pitch because of the monkey noises coming off the stands.

Given all of those things, Osmers would have done well to give the player a talking to, calming him down and giving him one last chance before issuing the second yellow card. This lack of tactfulness and understanding for a player facing racist abuse is shocking coming from a referee in 2020.

Players and Club Reactions

Both players and club officials were shocked after the match. Hertha defender Niklas Stark was taken aback by what his teammate had just experienced, calling the episode “revolting”.  The national team player told Hertha’s club website after the match:

“One couldn’t miss the fact, both after the game and before extra time, that he was taken aback by the incident. We as a team, a club and the entire Bundesliga have to stand behind him! One needs to condemn such acts; this is no way to act.”

Schalke’s head of sports Jochen Schneider agreed with Stark’s assessment after the match, telling the press:

“There is zero tolerance. I don’t have any understanding for morons of this kind. We are going to do all we can to find the people who were responsible for this and make sure that there’ll be consequences for their actions.”

Whilst it is easy to agree with Schneider’s words regarding Tuesday night’s ugly episode, one should keep in mind that the same man defended Schalke’s CEO Clemens Tönnies after the meat mogul had made racist remarks during a speech in Paderborn.

In Tönnies case, the club decided to give their CEO a slap on the wrist; a mere three-month suspension was enough to repent for his sins. Back in August, the 63-year-old made national headlines after saying that 20 new electricity plants should be built in Africa every year, adding:

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

Given how Tönnies’ apparent racism wasn’t really punished at all by the club, the board’s words regarding the incident last night ring hollow:

“There is zero tolerance from the side of the club regarding such behavior. We are going to do whatever we can to find out who was responsible for these acts in order to punish them. Such behavior doesn’t only go against the stadium rules, the guiding principles and the statutes of FC Schalke 04, but it is also not in keeping with our values. We’ll react with sanctions and we’ll report the incident to the authorities.”

Michael Preetz emphasized that the club would now get behind its player, writing in a statement on Wednesday:

“Jordan Torunarigha was, as a player of our team, a part of Hertha BSC, and a member of our society, racially abused. We were all taken aback by the incident and we are all standing behind our player. All of us – players, clubs, football associations, and fans – are now obliged to ban racism and discrimination of any kind from within our society. Such incidents cannot repeat themselves. We have to use the importance and the power of football even more than ever. That is our societal responsibility.”

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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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