BERLIN (AP) — Schalke chairman Clemens Tönnies has resisted calls to resign but is stepping down temporarily over comments he made last week that were widely condemned as racist.
The Gelsenkirchen-based soccer team has welcomed Tönnies’ decision to “resume in the same position” after three months. It says on the club website that allegations of racism are “unsubstantiated” but “allegations of having violated club policy and … non-discrimination principles are justified.”
Tönnies told a public meeting in Paderborn on Aug. 1 that tax increases to fight climate change were wrong and claimed it was better to finance 20 power plants a year in Africa.
“Then the Africans would stop cutting down trees, and they would stop making babies when it gets dark,” Tönnies said in comments first reported by the Neue Westfälische local newspaper.
Tönnies was speaking as head of the Tönnies Group, a meat-processing food giant with around 16,500 employees that specializes in the slaughter of pigs and cattle. The group posted revenues of 6.65 billion euros ($7.45 billion) last year.
Tönnies, who has been Schalke chairman since 2001, apologized for the comments but it wasn’t enough to stop widespread criticism. Germany’s justice minister Christine Lambrecht spoke of “hollow racism” and Sylvia Schenk of Transparency International Germany said Tönnies had a “highly problematic mentality.”
Criticism came from within soccer circles, too. Andreas Rettig of second-division side St. Pauli said Tönnies had displayed a “lord’s mentality,” while former Schalke forward Gerald Asamoah, now in charge of the club’s Under-23s, said he was “very surprised, shocked and also hurt.”
Nikolaus Schneider of the German soccer federation’s ethics commission told news agency dpa that it will be discussing the case on Aug. 15.
Schalke’s honorary board met to discuss the case on Tuesday evening, when Tönnies again expressed regret over the comments and acknowledged a violation of the club’s principles.
“Tönnies has therefore declared that he will take leave from the supervisory board and his position as chief for a three-month period, after which he will resume in the same position,” the club said. “The honorary board has welcomed Clemens Tönnies’ position and approved of both declarations.”
The club has since been widely criticized on Twitter by fans. Kicker magazine called the affair an “unbelievable farce.”
Schalke plays in Germany’s top tier. It finished 14th in the 18-team Bundesliga last season.