Why does everybody hate Dietmar Hopp?
You will probably have already seen the furore over the protests in Germany this past weekend, and indeed over the last few weeks. Hopp, the owner of Hoffenheim, has always been a ‘controversial’ figure in German football, but why has it all come to a head now?
On the Totally Football Show’s European edition this week, Rafa Honigstein provided a little background.
“There have been repeated protests/insults against Dietmar Hopp ever since Hoffenheim came to the Bundesliga, even before that. This is a village club, bankrolled by a benefactor who wanted to initially invest in other clubs, couldn’t get anywhere then decided to circumvent the 50+1 rules which don’t allow people to take over clubs.
“A lot of people resented that, and there’s been an ongoing action and reaction over the years to that. Every time, particularly Borussia Dortmund fans, have insulted Hopp, or protested again him as a symbol, rather than just as a person, Hopp has been very punitive against those fans.
“He reported some to the police, some of them have even been convicted for criminal insults, having to pay fines, some of them have been subjected to high-frequency sounds that drowned out the chants, although Hoffenheim said that was a rogue employee who did that.
“But the reason this kicked off now, os that the part of the German FA to do with disciplinary proceedings banned Dortmund fans from going to Hoffenheim for two years, which was reduced on appeal from three years.
“Everything you’ve seen since is other ultras coming out in support of Dortmund, using the same banners and language, almost as a citation to basically say we “we think we should be allowed to say these things”, and we don’t agree that fans are being collectively punished. So this is now not necessarily about everyone hating Hopp, but ultras of clubs – who don’t like each other and don’t get on at all – coming out against the German FA.”
This weekend Bayern’s game at Hoffenheim was stopped after a protest from the away fans, the Bayern players walked over and pleaded with them to stop, the game was held up and the final 13 minutes were essentially not contested, the ball played around among the two teams like the infamous Austria v West Germany game at the 1982 World Cup.
The fact that the games have been suspended under the ‘three-step’ protocol that was originally designed to deal with incidents of racism, has further exacerbated the controversy.
Rafa said: “That has now been extended quietly to also react to ‘hateful banners’, but where does hate begin and freedom of expression end? In one of those cases, the game was mistakenly suspended by the referee reacting to a banner that wasn’t insulting. It was anti-Hopp, but there were no insults, there was no bad language, it was just people making the point that people with money, like Hopp, seem to be able to bend the rules.
This has all proved especially galling considering that the three-step anti-racism protocols have rarely been used to try combatting racism. Indeed, Hertha Berlin’s Jordan Torunarigha was sent off (his second booking) in a game against Schalke in February after he suffered racial abuse from the stands.
Bayern ultra group ‘Red Fanatic Munich’ explained their side of things in a statement this week:
So I’ve taken the liberty of translating the statement from recently banned Bayern ultra group, “Red Fanatic Munich”, and have added a few annotations as well for context. It’s an absolute must read and I think Red Fanatic did a fantastic job explaining their side #Hopp pic.twitter.com/Y0INHb4u3X
— Max (@BorussianMyth) March 2, 2020
“It does smack of double standards,” said Rafa. “If you want to defend the referee in those previous cases, [you could say] it’s easier to react to a banner than to a player coming over to you and saying “look, I’ve heard something” – maybe the referee hasn’t heard it, and it’s much more difficult to react. That shouldn’t excuse the inaction – I’m just saying that it’s a slightly difficult context.
“Those who want to clamp down on the ultras have been very quick to jump on this and compare it to racism, and say it’s all part of a dark development that we don’t want to see in stadiums, and that’s where fans have got really sensitive about it, and rightly so.
“Whatever you want to say about the language, this is a politically motivated protest. Maybe you shouldn’t refer to people as “sons of whores” or put them in crosshairs – that’s very obviously in bad taste.
“But to construe this as an active murder threat or equate it with racism, is over the top, especially when most of these ultras are themselves very vocal about anti racism, fighting homophobia, fighting antisemitism in the stands. I think they feel very hard done by, and as if all these other things are being used to get them out of the stadium.”
So what happens next? By the sounds of things, this could be just the start:
“It will be interesting to see what happens in the midweek cup games: Schalke face Bayern, and Schalke have said “we will not wait for the three-step protocol – the moment we see these banners, the game will be abandoned.” Which in a way is very principled, but it raises the prospect of one guy with a Hopp banner who can get games abandoned.
“Someone on Twitter made the very pertinent point that the next time there’s racism at a game and nothing’s happening, maybe you just have to hold up an anti-Hopp banner.
“I think there’s a danger of both sides backing themselves into a corner, where it becomes a case of either/or: either you let us do what we want, as far as the ultras are concerned, or the clubs and the league become hugely reactionary and clamp down on absolutely everything. I think they have to come down from this, sit down and understand what are the acceptable and unacceptable things and really lose some of the very unhelpful rhetoric.
“I still hope that, in a way, something positive comes out of this. As clumsy and inelegant and counter-productive as some of those protests have been, people are more aware of the underlying motivation than they were before, when they saw a banner and found it easy to dismiss it.”
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