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Why Germany’s DFB control body is reviewing ‘Justice for George’ messages!

There has been worldwide uproar and widespread protests against racism and police brutality after the violent killing of American George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The topic also reached the Bundesliga on the weekend, with players like Weston McKennie (FC Schalke 04), Marcus Thuram (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi (both Borussia Dortmund) demonstrating solidarity in different ways.

While their actions have been met with much approval by the public, there has been some discussion about Saturday’s announcement after Weston McKennie wore an armband with the slogan ‘Justice for George’ that the DFB’s control body will address the matter and examine the situation in the coming days. The yellow card for Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho after he celebrated by removing his shirt was also criticised. He was wearing an undershirt that also bore the message “Justice for George”.

As a result, the DFB would like to give a quick overview regarding the current situation.

During his side’s game against SV Werder Bremen on Saturday, May 30, Schalke player Weston McKennie wore an armband bearing the slogan “Justice for George”. Why should this be reviewed by the DFB control body? The International Football Association Board’s (IFAB) laws of the game adopted by the DFB for the 2019/20 season state: “Equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images. Players must not reveal undergarments that show political, religious, personal slogans, statements or images, or advertising other than the manufacturer’s logo. For any offence, the player and/or the team will be sanctioned by the competition organiser, national football association or by FIFA.” Referees do not have to punish possible violations against this ruling; investigating the circumstances in the DFB’s case resides with the control body.

Yellow for Sancho according to Law 12

The same rule applies for Borussia Dortmund players Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi, who both revealed an undershirt bearing the slogan “Justice for George” in their game against SC Paderborn on Sunday, May 31. Why was Jadon Sancho booked though? The yellow card shown to the attacker after celebrating his goal to make it 2-0 didn’t have anything to do with his message of solidarity. Referee Daniel Siebert followed the laws of the game here, specifically Law 12 (Fouls and Misconduct), which states that a player will be booked for unsporting behaviour if they remove their shirt or cover their head with their shirt after celebrating a goal. “This is clearly defined as illegal conduct as per Law 12 and does not have anything to do with any political message,” explained Lutz Michael Fröhlich, sporting director of elite referees at the DFB. “It is hardly possible for referees to register political, religious or personal slogans, messages or images during a game. It isn’t the same as referees examining that the equipment’s colours match, for example. Should the referee notice a political or religious message on the player’s equipment, they make a note of it in their match report. An exception is when the player’s actions have an immediate impact on the game, such as delaying the restart of play, which the referee can punish with a yellow card.”

Marcus Thuram of Borussia Mönchengladbach opted for a different kind of protest in his side’s game against 1.FC Union Berlin on May 31. After his first goal, the Gladbach forward went down on his left knee and looked to the ground, which is open to interpretation, but is not against the rules and therefore requires no action from the referee.

“We’ll have to wait and see whether sanctions are required”

It is now up to the DFB control body to decide what sanctions the players could face for their demonstrations of solidarity, if any at all. DFB vice president Rainer Koch: “According to the DFB constitution, the control body’s task is to ensure that the DFB’s constitution and regulations are adhered to and to examine the circumstances surrounding violations. This is now happening as a result of this weekend’s actions. Part of these examinations is to ascertain whether during matches and on the pitch are the right place for these actions. As is the case internationally, the game itself should remain free of political statements or messages of any kind; the fair and competitive action on the pitch should be the focus. There are of course opportunities before and after the match for these kinds of things. We’ll have to wait and see whether sanctions are required in these instances.”

However, for Rainer Koch and the DFB – as one of the world’s biggest sporting associations – it is clear that values such as tolerance, open-mindedness and diversity must be kept alive and supported. DFB president Fritz Keller, who has huge respect and understanding for the players’ actions, feels the same: “It is intolerable when people are discriminated against because of the colour of their skin. It devastates me that they also die because of it. The victims of racism require solidarity from all of us, something that became even more evident to me when I met with victims of discrimination and representatives of organisations who have to fight against antisemitic, Islamophobic or racist hostility. Through our wide-ranging engagement of various forms, facets and events, the DFB and German football has said an unequivocal NO to racism, discrimination and all forms of violence. I have huge respect for players who take a stance and show their solidarity. We need responsible players like them and I am proud of them. From a moral standpoint, I completely understand their actions on the weekend. There is no one who isn’t moved by what has happened in the USA.”

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