Hertha Berlin's U16 team left the pitch during a football match on Saturday alleging racist abuse by opposition players. Their opponents, VfB Auerbach, have strongly rejected the allegations.
The under-16 team of Bundesliga club Hertha Berlin walked off the pitch during a game on Saturday after several of their players were reportedly racially abused by their opponents.
According to the club, the Hertha players and coaching staff decided to abandon the match against Saxony-based side VfB Auerbach in the 68th minute due to "multiple incidents of racism aimed at our players."
"There are situations where, even for us, football is secondary," Hertha's executive board member Paul Keuter wrote in an official statement which the club also shared on Twitter along with the hashtag #NoToRacism.
"We have a responsibility to ourselves, to our players and to society, responsibility which we take very seriously, which is why the decision not to continue the game was the only correct course of action," continued the statement. "Perhaps this measure will be a wake-up call to us all – players, clubs, federations and fans – to tackle this problem once and for all."
Hertha were winning 2-0 at the time but Keuter said: "In such a situation, our values and a clear stance are more important than victory or defeat on the pitch."
Team coach Sofian Chahed also posted a photo on Twitter of his players in the dressing room, along with the message: "There must be absolutely no place for racism on or off the pitch!"
Auerbach deny claims
On Saturday evening, VfB Auerbach, a semi-professional club whose first team plays in the fourth division, strongly rejected the allegations.
"VfB Auerbach objects to the accusation of racism," the club said in a statement, insisting that "neither the referee nor his assistants heard any racist comments. The impression created by Hertha BSC that this game was in any way characterized by racist comments is incorrect."
Auerbach have instead accused Hertha's players of unsporting behavior during the match and have claimed that the Auerbach players were subjected to "insulting comments from their opponents which went beyond acceptable boundaries."
"Throughout the entire game, we were aware of vicious threats and continuous insults towards our players from the Berliners," said club manager Volkhardt Kramer. "The Berlin players also criticized one another in an unusually tough manner."
Auerbach have promised to investigate the accusations internally and have also asked Hertha Berlin to investigate whether the U16 players and coaches behaved according to the principles of sporting fair play.
"VfB Auerbach and all its players, staff and members condemn racism," the statement concluded.
Second incident in a month
It wasn't the first time this month that Hertha Berlin players have been subjected to alleged racist abuse on the pitch.
On December 6, Hertha U23 player Jessic Ngankam complained of racist abuse from both fans and a player of fourth-division side Lokomotive Leipzig.
After scoring a goal, 19-year-old Ngankam was subjected to monkey chants from a handful of individuals in the Lok Leipzig section before alleging that one opposition player had called him a "monkey."
"Of course you're trained not to react or show emotion, but it still affects you," Ngankam told regional broadcaster MDR. "Insults are unfortunately an everyday occurrence in football, and I can put up with them. But racist abuse is a no-go."
During Hertha's Bundesliga home game against Freiburg on Saturday, some fans held up a banner in support of Ngankam, with the words: "Ngankam - one of us."
The club however was criticized after taking several days to comment on the incident while Ngankam's coach, Andreas Neuendorf, initially appeared to play down the incident.
"Some say idiot, some say donkey, some say monkey," the former Hertha and Bayer Leverkusen player told MDR after the game. "Perhaps it wasn't intended to be racist."
Lok Leipzig immediately released a statement condemning the incident, reminding their fans that the club is home to players with roots in 32 different countries and insisting that "only two colors interest us: [club colors] blue and yellow. Racism has no place among us and everyone knows that."
An investigation into the incident at the Lok Leipzig game is still ongoing.
mf/jh (dpa, Hertha Berlin)