They were two teams of 14-year-olds. But that didn't seem to matter. Right-wing fans rained anti-Semitic and racist insults down on a youth-league game in Eastern Germany last month. Police are investigating, but it's far from an isolated incident.
The Ascension Day holiday was to be a big day for the football community in Wurzen, a small town of 15,000 near Leipzig in former Communist-ruled East Germany. The local junior league had a match scheduled with a team from the industrial city of Chemnitz, formerly known as Karl-Marx-Stadt and located near the Czech border.
A number of fans had found their way to the stadium and by the time the whistle blew for kick-off, they were in high spirits, swilling beer and chanting supporters songs. The usual horde of young neo-Nazi skinheads and xenophobes were in the stands, looking for trouble.
Then the taunts began. The fans struck up a welcoming chorus for the visiting junior soccer team: Well build a subway from Chemnitz to Auschwitz You "Fiji pigs," they yelled at two 14-year-olds who were subbed in. You "foreigner pigs!" They made monkey noises every time they touched the ball. They also targeted the 14-year-old goalkeeper from the visiting team: "Jewish pig, go fuck your Jewish mother," they yelled.
'They're Making Us Look Like Such Monsters'
The crowd didn't just target the visitors. A linesman flagged an offside call, earning him a torrent of abuse including: "Get it right, Jew, or well come and pull your foreskin off."
Despite a number of attempts by the referees to get the crowd under control, the insults continued.
The kids from Chemnitz were not to be put off their game, eventually winning 2-0. But referee Christine Weigelt was not going to let matters rest there. From notes made during the game, she compiled a report on the anti-Semitic and racist abuse and handed it to district police chief Bernd Merbitz.
Her deputy referee Henry Lickfeldt added his protest. But some sport functionaries sided with the rabble, branding Weigelt and other accusers as liars tarnishing Wurzens reputation. Sports Association President Heiko Wandel said Weigelt had lost control of the match: "Theyre making us look like monsters," he said. "Weve got Vietnamese and Russians among our players. They should stop putting on such a show."
Many of the insults also came from the players on the field. Indeed, one player from the Wurzen team was barred from playing while the league looked into accusations that he had racially assaulted a Chemnitz player with a Vietnamese background. Wandel was not impressed. "That is going too far," he said. "I'll cover for him. He promised me that he didn't say anything. One is allowed to insult the Germans, but as soon as a Vietnamese is insulted, it is exaggerated."
The Vietnamese boy in question, son of a communist-era immigrant family, was given a red card just as the game was ending for shoving the player he accuses of having insulted him. "I would like too apologize for doing that," the boy said later. "But I won't put up with remarks like that." On the other side of the ball, a father of one of the Wurzel players apologized to the Chemnitz team for the insults.
Far Right Fixtures
But how could such a thing happen, and that at a children's league game? That is exactly the question that Harald Sather, chairman of the Committee of Referees in the state of Saxony is asking. "We have to get to the bottom of all this," he said. "Abuse is going too far. Foreign players deserve respect. How could this happen at a juniors game?"
For Germanys amateur sports world, the involvement of 12- to-14-year-old kids in incidents during the game at Wurzen is a worrying new trend, while abuse by far-right fans at soccer fixtures in East Germany is a fact of life. After major disturbances in amateur football in Saxony last February, 60 matches were cancelled on a single day as a punishment.
Police have promised to press charges. But Germanys Federation of Active Soccer Fans claims no police action would have been taken had referee assistant Lickfeldt not taken the initiative to call the police. Indeed, after the game, Lickfeldt says that the referee supervisor from Wurzen said he had seen nothing out of the ordinary and warned the referees against filing a report. He also says that the Wurzen trainer told him: "If you write something, then play it down. The German Football Association has their eyes out for such things."
Martin Endemann from the fans' association says that is what normally happens. "Referees often look the other way in such situations in order not to have any trouble. We have seen this again and again over the years." His group, based in Hanau in Western Germany, is running a campaign against intolerance and xenophobia in the country's football stands.
Wurzen -- which has 1,700 unemployed among its 15,000 residents and is famed for a cookie factory, the poet Joachim Ringelnatz and a mail-order firm specializing in far-right music and clothes -- was put on the map by its neo-Nazis and anti-Semites after communism collapsed in 1989. Skinheads and hard-right thugs chased Portuguese workers through the streets and attacked a hostel for asylum-seekers in the 1990s.
Wurzens mayor Jürgen Schmidt, a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkels Christian Democratic party (CDU), is keeping silent about the Ascension Day soccer match. He happens to be vice-president of the Wurzen club and shares a council administration table with local functionaries of the far-right NPD party.
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