Germany’s football association is struggling to salvage its image following disclosures that it had suspended a Nigerian-born goalkeeper for throwing a plastic bottle at fans who were repeatedly taunting him with racist chants.
Ikenna Onukogu, a 27-year-old player with the Lower Rhine regional side Hertha Hamborn, was banned from playing for six matches after the incident earlier this month during a game against the Dostlukspor Botrop.
The football association justified it decision saying that Onukogu was suspended for “grossly unsportsmanlike behaviour... in the interests of match security”.
But according to eyewitnesses – including Hertha Hamborn’s president, Christian Birken, and several opposing players – Onukogu was mobbed by supporters of Dostlukspor Botrop who gathered behind his goal and called him a “monkey”.
They said the supporters threw a plastic bottle at the goalkeeper and told him: “Stick it up your arse”. Onukogu had alerted the referee to the hostile crowd but the game was allowed to continued. He said that in exasperation he picked up the bottle and threw it back in the direction from which it had come.
“The soccer association was not behaving correctly,” said Onukogu. “Why does something like this happen after I have been insulted and intimidated? Mr Birken said the soccer association and the match referee had “totally failed” to act properly.”
The German association campaigns actively against racism on and off the pitch, although it was fined €25,000 (£20,000) after the national side’s game against Denmark at Euro 2012 at which fans unfurled a neo-Nazi banner.