November 18, 2017

Groundhog Day for Dynamo: How PEGIDA protests put the club in a bind

It’s an old story for Dynamo Dresden officials.

Over the last couple of decades, Dynamo fans have not had the most stellar reputation. Many have accused the club of tolerating right-wing elements in their stadium. The last time I was at the ground, however, the club had posted several signs stating “being a Nazi means that you are offside,” and the atmosphere at the ground was rather pleasant, generally speaking.

The PEGIDA protests taking place in Dresden over the last few months have gathered momentum of late, and now the professional sports clubs of the city have issued a statement positioning themselves with regard to the matter. Dynamo and the other clubs write in their statement:

“The professional sports teams of the city of Dresden are politically neutral. The clubs from Dresden stand for acceptance and respect, and we are against discrimination, the fear of foreigners, and against racism.”

Furthermore, Dynamo have told their members that they are not allowed to wear scarves, football kits, or other club memorabilia if they attend the PEGIDA protests, as that goes against club statues.  Dynamo managing director Robert Schäfer, told Spiegel Online:

“A football stadium represents the average of the population, which is also the case when it comes to us. Those club members who attend PEGIDA protests wearing fan gear are going against our statutes. We have to keep being sensitive to that fact.”

When pressed further on the issue, Schäfer told the magazine that the club won’t exclude members for breaking those statutes. The fact that Dynamo simply is hoping their public appeals will be heard without any consequential practical steps attached to the final part of the public statement has lead to public criticism of the club. The part in question reads:

“From the point of view of professional sports, it is important to listen to the justified interests of average citizens and to take their concerns seriously . . . and to engage in a public and fair discussion (with those citizens).”

Pleasing both sides

The statement shows the clubs collectively engaging in a delicate balancing act. They want to show their commitment against racism, while being sensitive to the fact that some of those marching in the streets of Dresden are also their paying customers, who they would rather not enrage.

Dynamo are seemingly on a mission to state that they don’t take any sides when it comes to political matters. Schäfer even stresses the point that many of those who attend the protests are people with respectable backgrounds.

However, the question is whether protesters simply have a political message, or whether their cause is targeting a change in society that German football should stand for? Having it both ways may not be possible when it comes to handling PEGIDA.

The way immigrants have been portrayed by the protesters serves to widen the divide between those who have found a new home in Germany and native-born Germans. A club like Dynamo Dresden should remind their fans that the football they have been enjoying over the years was, in large part, improved by the signing of foreign players who helped to make German football what it is today.

Furthermore, football and sports in general are fueled by values such as inclusiveness, openness, the understanding between cultures, and fighting against racism and discrimination of any kind. It should be the goal of any football club in Germany to further those goals. By stating that the protesters should be heard even though Dynamo may not necessarily agree with their agenda isn’t going to cut it if the club wants to clearly show where it stands. The fact that club officials seem to think that the aforementioned values are up for political discussion, which would mean that they aren’t part of the German DNA, is scary in itself.

The organisation has made headlines for their harsh stands on how immigrants should be treated. It has been discovered that slogans from the Third Reich were used in a closed Facebook group for members of PEGIDA. Far-right elements regard the organisation as their chance to reach out to people from the middle of society to help further their cause.

A clear-cut statement against the protesters in Dresden would have certainly ruffled the feathers of a few Dynamo fans, but at the end of the day. the club needs to ask itself whether hanging on to those fans is worth the price. It has to be said that the club has done much to combat racism among the different fan groups over the years, but that is also why it is so sad to see that they couldn’t be unequivocally against PEGIDA in their statement.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 30-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 and on the @AufstiegPod.

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