Refugee-friendly German club forgoes sponsor for cause

Sports

Thoralf Hintze, left, member of the board of the German fourth division soccer club Babelsberg 03, and Liza Pflaum, spokeswomen of the ‘Seebruecke’ (Pier) sea rescue organistion pose for the photographers after a press conference in Potsdam near Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Babelsberg 03 provides its current season team jersey to the international ‘Seebruecke’ movement. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

BERLIN (AP) — German soccer club Babelsberg is mixing sport with politics again.

The fourth-tier club is forgoing a main jersey sponsor for the coming season to carry the logo of Seebrücke (Sea-bridge), a group campaigning for safe routes for refugees to reach Europe.

Babelsberg, which previously generated headlines for its refugee-friendly stance and an ongoing campaign against Nazis, is donating 5 euros ($5.60) from every jersey sold to the organization.

“The club wants to support Seebrücke’s political engagement for the right to flee and against the criminalization of civilian sea rescues. We opted for Seebrücke because it is a Europe-wide movement that is not only committed to the rescue of refugees, but also to a fundamental rethink in the areas of flight and migration with the focus on the rights of refugees,” the club says on its website.

“With this step, Babelsberg 03 commits itself to the basic principals of humanity and a solidarity-based welcome culture, and sends a signal against the deter-and-repel politics of the European Union.”

Babelsberg was in a position to support Seebrücke after the end of its previous sponsorship agreement with Lonsdale. Main sponsors Oatly, an oat-milk manufacturer, and EWP, a local energy company, both said they were happy just to support the club and leave the jersey free for another sponsor or political message.

“For us, only Seebrücke came into question. We were always engaged in favor of humanitarian issues so it was a natural fit,” Babelsberg spokesman Thoralf Höntze told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The new jerseys have been selling well with fans eager to support the cause. The club’s first batch was sold out within 24 hours. The club is also offering fans a “solidarity membership” with 50% of the proceeds going to Seebrücke.

Babelsberg is the biggest soccer club in Potsdam, just to the southwest of Berlin and capital of the state of Brandenburg. The team lost its first game of the new season in Germany’s northeastern league at rival Dynamo Berlin 3-1 on Sunday, but the club’s sporting achievements have long been eclipsed by its political activity.

In 2014, Babelsberg formed Germany’s first team of refugees, Welcome United 03, which entered the country’s lowest league the following year, while last year it refused to pay a heavy fine from the Northeast German Soccer Federation after its fans chanted “Nazi pigs out” at Energie Cottbus supporters in response to right-wing chants and Nazi salutes.

Babelsberg eventually paid the fine after a compromise was reached where half went toward its measures against racism and the other half was to be used by the federation for similar measures.

The affair prompted Babelsberg to step up its “Nazis out of the stadiums” campaign, since joined by many other high-profile clubs including Borussia Dortmund, Werder Bremen and St. Pauli.

Babelsberg’s next game is at Chemie Leipzig on Saturday, when the team will wear the Seebrücke jerseys for the first time.

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More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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