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German FA forced to investigate player protests despite words of support from 'proud' president

DFB president Fritz Keller expressed his admiration for the players, but the association’s hand will be forced due to its adherence to IFAB rules.

Jadon Sancho brandishes a 'Justice for George Floyd' message after removing his shirt.
Jadon Sancho brandishes a 'Justice for George Floyd' message after removing his shirt.
Image: Imago/PA Images

THE GERMAN FA (DFB) said on Monday they will be forced to investigate three Bundesliga players for protesting against racism and police brutality in the USA due to the rules governing football around the world, and despite DFB president Fritz Keller roundly praising their actions.

Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Achraf Hakimi, as well as Schalke’s US midfielder Weston McKennie, called for justice for George Floyd who died last week after a white policeman in Minneapolis held his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck for several minutes.

Borussia Moenchengladbach’s Marcus Thuram took a knee after scoring to echo the gesture by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began doing so in 2016.

virus-outbreak-germany-soccer-bundesliga Schalke's Weston McKennie (2) wears an armband dedicated to 'George' [Floyd]. Source: AP/PA Images

The first three incidents are being reviewed by the DFB’s Control Body which is following guidelines from the sport’s lawmakers, the International Football Association Board (IFAB).

An almost apologetic DFB statement, which noted that there has been “worldwide uproar and widespread protests against racism and police brutality after the violent killing of American George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota”, explained that: “During his side’s game against SV Werder Bremen on Saturday, 30th June, 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.

“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, 31st May,” the statement continued.

“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.”

imago-20200531 Hakimi (L) avoided yellow as he didn't fully remove his shirt. Source: Imago/PA Images

“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, within the statement. “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”, Fröhlich continued, “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.”

Thuram’s ‘taking a knee’, however, is “open to interpretation, but is not against the rules” per the statement, and therefore his incident will not be looked into further.

borussia-monchengladbach-1st-fc-union-berlin Marcus Thuram takes a knee. Source: DPA/PA Images

Despite the decision to review the other three forms of protest, DFB president Fritz Keller praised all four individuals’ conduct.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

- With reporting from AFP

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