German tabloid Bild has sparked anger among the country's football fans by claiming the famously alternative Hamburg club FC St Pauli has 'no heart for refugees'.
But instead of shaming the club, the paper's actions have had precisely the opposite effect – fans have been calling for a boycott of Bild and even asking their own clubs to follow St. Pauli’s lead.
So what’s the issue?
Bild, along with the German Football League and its sponsor Hermes, had launched a campaign to get all 36 clubs in Bundesliga 1 and 2 to wear logos stating 'refugees welcome - wir helfen [we help]' on their sleeves this weekend. Hermes, a logistics firm, is waiving its advertising space on the shirt to accommodate the patches.
It may not sound like a controversial plan, and while many applaud its intentions, it’s also led to a certain amount of unease – not about the cause, but rather who was behind it and what their motives were. Commentators have accused the right-wing Bild in the past of stirring up resentment towards foreigners in Germany, before it changed its stance recently. Many also feel that this new campaign is simply a marketing exercise for the tabloid, essentially trying to hop on the feel-good bandwagon and improve its own image - Bild's logo appears on the patch too, after all.
While most clubs agreed to the initiative, St Pauli wrote to the organisers to politely decline, preferring instead to continue with their own programme of support. Last week, for example, the club hosted a friendly against Borussia Dortmund – refugees were invited to watch, the players and fans displayed banners and a lot of money was raised. In a statement, the club's chief executive Andreas Rettig explained that the club has been actively engaged in the cause in Hamburg for a long time already: 'We give practical support and direct help where it is needed'.
St Pauli, along with many other German clubs like Schalke 04 and Bayern Munich, have been welcoming refugees for months.
What did Bild do?
Clearly unwilling to accept St Pauli's non-participation, Bild's chief editor Kai Diekmann tweeted:
— Kai Diekmann (@KaiDiekmann) September 16, 2015
[Translation: 'No heart for refugees: Shame, actually @fcstpauli! #refugeesnotwelcome St. Pauli is boycotting 'We help']
And thus began the backlash
As one fan pointed out, St Pauli have been doing their bit all year, not just in the past few weeks:
— Micha (@DeadCanDance01) September 16, 2015
[Translation: 'Just as a reminder: Monday 16 February 2015 (!), the home match against Greuther Fuerth']
The hashtag #BILDnotwelcome started trending on Twitter, as fans called out the paper for trying to force the club into its supposedly voluntary campaign.
[Translation: 'Kai Diekmann accusing St Pauli of being against refugees? You could just as easily accuse Bild of being against decency and ethics']
— John Allen (@DearJohnAllen) September 16, 2015
Anyone wanting further examples need only search on #BILDnotwelcome - there are quite a lot.
And so Bild's campaign will go ahead as planned this weekend, but without the involvement of one of the most popular clubs in Germany. They may not have articulated it in so many words, but the message was clear: We do support refugees, thank you very much, but we don't support you. But what do you think? Were St Pauli right to stick to their principles or should they have just bitten the bullet and joined in? Have your say below.
For anyone unfamiliar with St Pauli, the club has always enjoyed a cult following in Germany and abroad for its amazing stadium atmosphere, social engagement and anti-establishment stance. They're currently in the second division, but have previously played in Bundesliga 1. They have a strong connection with Celtic and often play pre-season friendlies against each other.
UPDATE: On Thursday morning, another Bundesliga 2 club, FC Union Berlin, announced they were not going to participate either (text in German).
Borussia Dortmund fans also made their feelings clear during their Europa League match on Thursday evening:
— schwatzgelb.de (@schwatzgelbde) September 17, 2015