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Football: Abuse of Black German players shows endemic racism

June 26, 2023

Racially abusive posts towards two members of Germany's under-21 soccer team are the latest in a long line of racist insults that have marred German professional football.

Youssoufa Moukoko grimaces as he kicks the ball in a game against Israel
Germany national player Youssoufa Moukoko (r) has spoken out against 'disgusting' racial abuseImage: Meusel/Beautiful Sports/Imago

"When we win, we're all Germans. If we lose, then we are the Blacks, then the monkey comments come out," said German striker Youssoufa Moukoko, a member of the national team.

Moukoko, who was born in Cameroon, and teammate Jessic Ngankam, who is of Cameroonian descent, both missed penalties for a draw against Israel 1-1 in the group stage of the under-21 European Championship last Thursday.

18-year-old Moukoko said that after the game, they had been inundated with racist comments on social media, including monkey emojis.

"Things like this just don't belong in football. It's disgusting," the Borussia Dortmund player said. "This time it hurt. No player misses a penalty on purpose."

The two have since seen an outpouring of support on social media.

On Saturday, Ngankam posted his thanks on Instagram for the many encouraging comments, adding: "Sad that in 2023 there will still be "people" hiding behind anonymous accounts to make racial curses."

Jessic Ngankam wipes sweat from his face as he stands on the football pitch
Jessic Ngankam was targeted with racial abuse after missing a penalty for Germany in the UEFA U21 European Cup match against IsraelImage: Meusel/Beautiful Sports/Imago

'You disgust us'

The German Football Association (DFB) were quick to respond, tweeting in English and German: "To those of you who made discriminatory, insulting and inhuman comments towards several of our players following the U21 match last night, we say: You disgust us."

Germany's under-21 coach, Antonio di Salvo, also spoke out, saying he was "shocked and disappointed" about the racism towards the boys, "who love to play for Germany, who are Germans and who give everything for their country and themselves."

The supportive words are in stark contrast with the actions of Ngankam's club and coach in 2019 after Ngankam, then playing for Hertha's under-23 team, was subjected to monkey chants by fans from the opposing team.

The club took days to make a statement, while Hertha's under-23 trainer, Andreas Neuendorf, seemed to make light of the incident.

"Some say idiot, some say donkey, some say monkey," Neuendorf said after the game. "Perhaps it wasn't intended to be racist."

Racism researcher Lorenz Narku Laing said he was "very happy" to see trainer di Salvo and the DFB speaking out against the racist abuse and "making visible that it is wrong."

"This has been missing in the past years. And I hope that they will continue," said Laing, a professor at Germany's Protestant University of Applied Sciences in Bochum and a member of the Federal Government Commission on Anti-Racism.

Endemic plague of racism

While Germany's Bundesliga as well as other soccer clubs and associations may react more strongly and swiftly to racist abuse now,  the incidents still show no sign of abating.

In the same week as Moukoko and Ngankam were abused, defender Yann-Aurel Bisseck, who has dual German-Cameroonian nationality, was massively insulted on Facebook after his appointment as captain of the German national under-21 team last Tuesday.

Germany's under-17 team, which won the European Championships, also copped racial abuse earlier in the month, with the DFB reporting "a strong accumulation of racist comments on social media."

Germany national player Benjamin Henrichs, who has a Ghanaian mother, even went as far as sharing some social media direct messages in which he and his family were subjected to racist and derogatory insults.

"We live in a society where anyone can spread hate and racism on the net," the RB Leipzig player wrote on TikTok in April.

In a 2022 articleon racism in German soccer, the US-based German academic Arne Koch listed many other incidents going back decades.

Ahead of the 2006 World Cup, for example, the far-right National Democratic Party printed a brochure targeting national Patrick Owomoleya, who is of Nigerian descent. The brochure featured the number 25 — Owomoleya's jersey number — with the slogans: "White. Not just a football shirt color. For a real national team."

Speaking as a witness in a court case about the brochure, Owomoleya said he felt "hurt" and "offended."

Erwin Kostedde, the first Black footballer to represent Germany, believes that nearly 50 years since he first donned the national jersey in 1974, Black players are still not on equal footing with their white colleagues.

"It's great to see so many Black Germans playing, but they will always be second choice here in Germany, and watch what happens once they make a mistake," he told DW in a 2021 interview.

Erwin Kostedde swings his arms as he goes to kick a ball
In 1974, Erwin Kostedde became the first Black player in Germany's national teamImage: Sven Simon/picture-alliance

All-white management

Racism's effects are often dismissed by those who aren't directly affected. A 2021 study found that nearly half of Germans either completely, predominantly or partly agreed that "Black people are too sensitive, when it comes to racism in Germany."

That means to tackle racism, German football needs to break down structural barriers and gett more people "with an experience of racism" at higher levels within soccer associations, Laing said.

Germany's professional soccer teams and national squads are usually multicultural, something that is lacking among those running the clubs. A recent report found around 96% of trainers, managers and scouts in German football were white.

Also, Laing believes, the associations need to crack down much harder on those clubs with racist fans.

"If a game has to be stopped because of a racist incident, the other team should win because racism shouldn't be a benefit, shouldn't come as a handy tool to distract those soccer players from their job."

Antonio Rüdiger runs in front of the goal
Antonio Rüdiger (2nd from right), seen playing in a friendly Germany-Poland match earlier this mont, is vocal about his experiences of racismImage: Christian Charisius/dpa/picture alliance

But as Germany national player and Real Madrid defender Antonio Rüdiger wrote in a 2021 article about racism published on The Players' Tribune website: "even us, as footballers, we are part of this system."

"How many times do we have these kinds of deep conversations [about racist abuse] in the dressing room? Not that often, to be honest. So what do we do instead? We post some captions on Instagram. 'Kick Racism Out!!!!'," wrote Rüdiger, who has Sierra Leonean roots.

"Posting, posting, posting. Feeling like we have done something. And yet we have done nothing. Nothing changes. It's not my job to know why it is like this. But I know what it tastes like."


Sports reporters Kres Harrington and Jonathan Harding contributed to this article.

Edited by: Keith Walker

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