Berlin soccer club punished over antisemitic abuse during Haifa match

UEFA orders Union Berlin to close area of stadium used by home fans for one game, after spectators gave Nazi salutes and yelled slurs at fans of visiting Israeli team

Illustrative: In this May 22, 2021 file photo Union fans cheer for their team after the German Bundesliga soccer match between 1. FC Union Berlin and RB Leipzig in Berlin, Germany. (AP/Michael Sohn)
Illustrative: In this May 22, 2021 file photo Union fans cheer for their team after the German Bundesliga soccer match between 1. FC Union Berlin and RB Leipzig in Berlin, Germany. (AP/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN, Germany — European soccer body UEFA sanctioned German soccer club Union Berlin on Friday with a partial stadium closure for the antisemitic behavior of some of its fans toward supporters of Israeli team Maccabi Haifa.

UEFA said it had concluded its disciplinary proceedings against Union “for the racist behavior of its supporters” during the Europa Conference League game against Haifa at Berlin’s Olympiastadion on September 30.

It was the first soccer game involving an Israeli team played at the stadium built for the 1936 Olympics hosted by Nazi Germany.

UEFA ordered Union to close sections 13 and 14 “where the home supporters are seated” for its next game in the competition — against Dutch team Feyenoord on Thursday — and display a banner with the wording “#NoToRacism” and the UEFA logo in those sectors.

Union had already identified one individual it said took part in the antisemitic abuse of Haifa fans and banned him from the club’s grounds and premises indefinitely. The club said it also contacted the German soccer federation to register a nationwide stadium ban against the unnamed man.

“There is no tolerance whatsoever for discrimination at Union Berlin,” said club president Dirk Zingler, who slammed the “shameful and intolerable” abuse.

Supporters of Maccabi Haifa attend a group E Europa Conference League soccer match between FC Union Berlin and Maccabi Haifa FC in Berlin, Germany, September 30, 2021. (Michael Sohn/AP)

The Fare Network, which combats discrimination in soccer, said “eyewitnesses were shocked by the levels of antisemitism” at the game.

Fare on Twitter showed pictures of a Union supporter who, it said, gave Nazi salutes toward the visiting fans “and abused those who called him out.” Another man in one of the pictures can be seen also giving a Nazi salute, which is illegal in Germany and punishable by prison terms.

Members of the youth branch of the local German-Israeli society said Union fans threw beer on them and called them “(expletive) Jews” among other insults.

The Department for Research and Information on Antisemitism Berlin, or RIAS, said visiting fans also faced racist and homophobic slurs as well as the antisemitic abuse.

RIAS and the local German-Israeli society members noted that many Union fans tried to prevent the perpetrators from engaging in the abuse. The society members expressed gratitude for the support they received from the majority.

The stadium is usually used by Union’s city rival Hertha Berlin, but it has been taken over by Union for European competition this season as its own stadium in the eastern borough of Köpenick doesn’t have enough seating capacity to meet UEFA demands.

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