SV Babelsberg 03 are fighting their local FA, saying their fans only misbehaved in a game against Cottbus when the visiting fans baited them with Nazi chants. In theory, the club runs the risk of an outright ban.
Half an hour before kick-off in the fourth-tier Brandenburg derby between SV Babelsberg 03 and FC Energie Cottbus on 28 April 2017, the first of several Nazi salutes was made in the away end.
Throughout the match, these were accompanied by chants of "Arbeit macht frei, Babelsberg null drei," a rhyming couplet based on the infamous inscription emblazoned upon the entrances to Auschwitz and several other Nazi concentration camps, meaning "work sets you free."
Rockets and flares were aimed at the home fans, and several masked Cottbus hooligans climbed over fences to storm the pitch in an attempt to approach the Babelsberg supporters. In response, Babelsberg ultras chanted "Nazischweine raus!" — literally: "Nazi pigs out." But when the authorities reported on the unrest in the stadium, only one set of chants made it into the regional football association's official findings.
"In approximately the 15th minute, a person in the Babelsberg fan block shouted: 'Nazi pigs out!' in the direction of the Cottbus end," read the official verdict from the north-eastern regional football association (the NOFV), as Babelsberg were fined €7,000 (roughly $8,800) for their supporters' part in the crowd trouble, including their use of pyrotechnics.
Police presence was unusually high at the game, although the derby would have been on authorities' radar as a potential flashpoint
Energie Cottbus were separately fined €10,000 for their supporters' behavior in that game and in two others, but the sentence initially made no mention of the Nazi chants and salutes, which had been clearly audible on television and social media footage and reported in several newspaper match reports. They were only added belatedly after the German Football Association (DFB) intervened. On appeal, Cottbus' punishment was reduced to a €6,000 fine (€4,000 of which was suspended until they committed another transgression).
But Babelsberg's appeal against their sentence, which also made reference to pitch encroachment and the use of pyrotechnics, was rejected on bureaucratic grounds, with the NOFV claiming that the official communication hadn't been appropriately signed.
The sentence therefore stood and Babelsberg have so far refused to pay, writing to formally inform the NOFV on Thusday night. The deadline passed at the stroke of midnight on Friday. In theory, the toughest sanction the club could face for non-payment would be having their playing license revoked – a development which would ultimately lead to insolvency.
"Anything other than a reassessment of the sentence is unimaginable," Babelsberg chairman Archibald Horlitz has said. He believes that the NOFV is turning a blind eye to right-wing extremism in its jurisdiction by mentioning the Babelsberg fans' "Nazi pigs out" chants in its verdict, but not the Nazi salutes and discriminatory chants from Cottbus supporters.
"The 'Nazi scum out' chants were a reaction to persistent anti-Semitic and racist chants from the Energie Cottbus fan block," Babelsberg club attorney Nathan Gelbart said, speaking to Deutschlandfunk public radio. "In fact, I would describe it as a sort of moral self-defense."
Domestic media responses have been highly critical of the NOFV, with German football culture magazine 11Freunde commenting: "People who raise their right arms as a salute and chant quotes from concentration camps need to be called what they are: Nazis. And Nazis have absolutely no place in football. It's obvious, isn't it? Apparently not."
Not an isolated incident
The incident, and another that followed in a Leipzig derby between Lokomotive and Chemie Leipzig, were the latest in a series of anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi stadium scandals in German football — particularly in the former east of the country.
In September, Germany's World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic in Prague was marred by neo-Nazi chants from sections of the traveling support. And hooligans attached to several eastern German clubs were also among the German supporters who displayed a black, white and red Imperial German flag in Lille during Euro 2016 – a common neo-Nazi symbol.
In October, football stickers, allegedly emanating from Borussia Dortmund hooligan groups, were discovered in Düsseldorf depicting Holocaust victim Anne Frank in a Schalke shirt. Similar motifs appeared in Leipzig, supposedly from Lok Leipzig's hooligan scene, picturing the child diarist in a Chemie Leipzig shirt.
At a match between Red Star Leipzig and TSV Schildau in Germany's seventh tier, Leipzig players were ordered to remove t-shirts bearing the slogan "Nazis out!" - worn in support of Babelsberg.