Schalke 04’s Tönnies takes 3-month break from board chair after African comments

August 7 – Yet another racism row has struck at the heart of German football with Clemens Toennies, president of top-flight club Schalke 04, forced to step down for three months following a hearing into controversial comments he made last week.

Tönnies, a billionaire owner of a meat processing company, criticised tax increases to fight climate change while speaking at a festival in the western city of Paderborn, suggesting instead that money be used to fund power plants in Africa.

“Then the Africans would stop cutting down trees and produce babies when it is dark,” Tönnies said.

His comments triggered a wave of angry reaction and calls for his immediate resignation at the Bundesliga club that has one of the largest and most loyal fan bases in Germany.

“I am a bit speechless,” said Ghanaian-born former Germany and Schalke player Gerald Asamoah. “His comments surprised me, shocked me and injured me. He is insulting me and everyone else involved.”

Tönnies quickly issued a public apology saying his comments were wrong and inappropriate and said he stood fully behind the club’s fight against racism, discrimination and exclusion.

But Dagmar Freitag, who chairs the sports committee in Germany’s parliament, argued that Tönnies’ apology could not make up for the damage his remarks caused.

“That something like this (is) articulated by someone who holds a prominent position in the sport makes things even worse,” she told German newspaper Welt.

Schalke’s honorary board met late on Tuesday with Tönnies and following a four-hour discussion rejected the claims of racism but said he had violated the club’s anti-discrimination rules.

“He accepted this violation and again expressed his regret. This is why Clemens Tönnies has announced that he will step down from chair of the board for a period of three months,” the club said in a statement.

Schalke kick off their Bundesliga season next week against Borussia Moenchengladbach.

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