The head of Schalke’s supervisory board, has come under fire for recent comments regarding Africa. DW spoke with fan culture and extremism researcher Robert Claus about what consequences Clemens Tönnies should face.
DW: Mr. Claus, you will have heard about the statement from Schalke supervisory board chairman Clemens Tönnies on Africa. What was your initial reaction?
Robert Claus: I was shocked by these racist and colonialist statements. It also alarmed me that these came from a Schalke executive. The “Schalke fan initiative against racism” is one of the oldest in Germany.
The public has debated for days about Tönnies and his statements, even national politicians have spoken on the issue. What should be done?
On the one hand, such statements do not do justice to the office of that Mr. Tönnies holds. He needs to face the consequences. On the other hand, the fact that some applauded him and no one objected [when Tönnies made the statement during a speech] shows how established racist statements are in civil circles.
In your view, could a quick and sincere apology to those he insulted – not Schalke fans – have defused the situation? Or were his remarks too grave for that?
It’s nothing new. The topic of migration and racism has been hotly debated for many years in Germany. A five-sentence apology is too tight-lipped in such a debate. A superficial approach is not sufficient. You can’t simply return to business as usual.
If Tönnies doesn’t step down, will it send a fatal signal for the credibility of the fight against racism in football in general? Or just at Schalke?
Of course, a lack of consequences would significantly damage the credibility of the campaign against racism in football. Either Tönnies steps down, or he quickly lays out a serious plan of how he wants to strengthen the work against racism in the company he runs and at Schalke – through educational seminars for high-ranking officials, for instance. However, it will be hard for him to put things right.
Are there aspects of this whole discussion that, in your mind, are either not being addressed at all or not being sufficiently addressed?
Racism in football is often only discussed when it comes from right-wing hooligans, i.e. the fan scenes. There is a long list of initiatives against fan racism, as well as socio-educational fan projects. But there are hardly any professional football clubs that have firmly integrated diversity and anti-discrimination into their personnel policy and consistently implemented it in employee training. Instead, often corporate videos are produced that collapse like a house of cards when management makes statements like this. There need to be more internal seminars up to the highest levels of management to sensitize the people involved.
Do you consider the current response and the reactions from the DFB (German FA) and club representatives to be appropriate? Or do you think there should be a clearer response from the football industry?
Unfortunately, there only have been a few big names that have come out critically, namely Hans Sarpei, Gerald Asamoah, Cacau – three black former footballers – and Reinhard Rauball. But no current national team players. In particular, people who are not affected by racism are called upon to show their solidarity. But either there is either a lack of awareness or a fear of tainting one’s own career. Both would be fatal.
Robert Claus, born 1983 in Rostock, has a masters degree in European Ethnology and Gender Studies from Berlin’s Humboldt University. He conducts research, holds seminars and has published books on fan culture, hooliganism, right-wing extremism, masculinity, social movements and violence. Since 2013, Clause has worked for the fan organization Kompetenzgruppe Fankulturen und Sport bezogene Soziale Arbeit (KoFaS).
The interview was conducted by David Vorholt