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Berlin club barred from using charity as kit sponsor

August 5, 2021

Unable to find a sponsor for the new season, Tennis Borussia Berlin wanted to promote a support fund for victims of far-right violence. But the local FA fears the shirt ad would "provoke a certain group of people."

Fußball Tennis Borussia Berlin
Image: Jan Huebner/imago images

Tennis Borussia Berlin, a football club in Germany's fourth-tier Regionalliga, will not be allowed to play in shirts promoting a support fund for victims of far-right violence.

The club, known in Germany for its supporters' antifascist views, had submitted multiple requests to promote CURA, a victim support fund for people affected by right-wing violence in Germany, on its football shirt after failing to find a kit sponsor for the new season.

But the Northeastern Football Association (NOFV) has rejected the applications, saying in its most recent decision that advertisement could "provoke a certain group of people."

The CURA fund is operated by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, one of Germany's most well-known NGOs campaigning against the far-right. The charity, founded in 1998, is named for the first victim of far-right violence since Germany's reunification in 1990.

The NOFV rejected an initial application from Tennis Borussia, also known as TeBe, to advertise the victim support fund for the whole season, citing the association's ban on "advertising political groups with political statements. The Berlin-based club then applied for a special permit to play with the CURA ad as a one-off on the second matchday of the season, only to have their application denied once again.

TeBe decided to put their shirts with the CURA sponsorship on sale. Fans who donate 50 euros or more to CURA will enter a raffle for special edition shirts with the names of the 14 victims of right-wing violence in Berlin since 1990.

Right-wing extremism has recently been labeled "the biggest threat to democracy" by German foreign minister Horst Seehofer. Germany recently recorded its highest number of far-right extremist crimes since records began in 2001.

Why did the NOFV reject TeBe's application?

"A political statement is noticeable," the NOFV wrote to the club explaining its decision. The association added that the application stands in contrast to what the letter labeled as "the association's religious and political neutrality."

While said it rejects any racist or xenophobic views, NOFV also felt TeBe's application carries a political message as the Amadeu Antonio Foundation only shows solidarity with victims of violence by one group, and not with all other violence victims.

"In addition to that, we are worried that a certain group of people would feel provoked through this advertisement," the NOFV added.

Responding to DW’s request for comment, the NOFV said TeBe’s request came due to CURA’s name specifically mentioning "right-wing" violence, and not all forms of violence.

"Violence also exists from the left wing and in other forms," NOFV told DW in a statement. According to the association, every club is free to voice their views before or after games, but not while they take place.

Tennis Borussia Berlin fans
TeBe fans criticized the decision to ban to ban the club from promoting a victim support fundImage: Matthias Koch/imago images

What was the response to the NOFV decision?

TeBe's organized fans took to social media to criticize the NOFV's decision, calling the decision a "slap in the face” for people affected by discriminatory tendencies in football.

"One thing is clear: Anyone who feels provoked by an advertisement for victims of right-wing violence has nothing to do at a football stadium," they wrote on Facebook.

The Amadeu Antonio Foundation, too, criticized the ban.

"We regret the NOFV's decision," said the organization. "Standing in solidarity with victims of far-right violence should be a matter of course in a democratic society."

Other controversial NOFV decisions

This is not the first time the NOFV makes the headlines in Germany in a political context.

Back in 2017, fourth division side SV Babelsberg were fined by the local association after their fans had called Energie Cottbus fans "Nazi pigs." Energie, whose fans had given the Nazi salutes and sung racist and antisemitic chants during the game, were only punished for their fans' use of pyrotechnics.

Despite being threatened with relegation, SV Babelsberg stood their ground and refused to pay the fine. The case was later resolved with a compromise, as part of which the fine was invested in anti-racism causes.

In another case, the NOFV initially chose not to investigate Lokomotive Leipzig despite antisemitic and racist chants by their fans in the derby against local rivals Chemie Leipzig in 2017.

This was despite the fact that the chants could be clearly heard during the game's TV broadcast. The association then changed its decision after local media had reported on the chants.