Werder Bremen at odds with right-wing populist FPÖ, which demands apologies

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Last week, German PhD student Werder Bremen traveled to an idyllic mountain village in Austria to prepare for the new football season in serenity. However, the club is now in serious conflict with the local branch of the right-wing populist party FPÖ (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs).

The Germans settled in Zell am Ziller, a ski resort in Tyrol where Ajax also worked up a sweat at training camps for a few summers. On the first day, Werder Bremen’s social media department noticed something: an FPÖ banner hung next to the training field. The Tyrolean branch of the party held an event there just that day.

Werder tweeted about it. “We already feel so at home here that we dare to do it here too: a clear message against Nazis!” With a hashtag, the club added that you cannot choose your neighbors.

The statement did not go unnoticed. The FPÖ, still an important factor in Austrian politics, is not afraid of any controversy. A response to the tweet soon followed.

“We’ve got this filthy left-wing piefke (a mocking term for German, ed.) Not necessary here. They should go and celebrate ‘rainbow Ramadan’ in Germany,” wrote press officer Leo Kohlbauer. On its Facebook page, the party wrote that German football is increasingly influenced by left-wing radicals.

That didn’t end the stocking. Markus Abwerzger, the local FPÖ chairman, demanded apologies and money from the ‘dumbs’ at Werder. And fast. He announced that the club would have to apologize for his “derogatory” tweet within a week and remove it. He also wants compensation of 10,000 euros.

If the Germans refuse all that, there would be a lawsuit, according to Abwerzger. The tweet in question is still online.

committed club

It is no coincidence that Werder Bremen spoke out so emphatically against the FPÖ. The club has a reputation in Germany of being socially engaged. For example, Werder supported the ‘Nazi’ from the stadiums’ campaign, set up by the Babelsberg club.

Four years ago, club chairman Hubertus Hess-Grunewald spoke out against the right-wing AFD. “It is a contradiction to be for Werder and to vote AFD.”

Together with Werder’s then striker Martin Harnik (Austrian international), he was also present at a demonstration against racism and fascism in Bremen. Hess-Grunewald is an active member of the Social Democratic SPD.

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    ‘Refugees Welcome’ in the stands at Werder in 2015
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The club’s fanatical supporters also have a reputation for being very politically aware. Like Sankt Pauli in Hamburg, some groups within the hard core are far left oriented.

With banners they repeatedly targeted the extreme right. In 2015, when the refugee crisis in Germany was at its peak, Werder supporters held up a banner saying ‘Refugees Welcome’.

Case Hinterreger

Last month, the FPÖ also appeared in the football news. Austrian international Martin Hinterreger (29) announced out of the blue that he would end his playing career shortly after he was discredited because of his affiliation with FPÖ politician Heinrich Sickl.

Sickl, who is accused of harboring extreme right-wing sympathies, helped Hinterreger set up a football tournament under his name: the Hinti Cup.

The fact that the defender of Eintracht Frankfurt did not want to distance himself from Sickl led to great commotion. For Hinterreger, that was one of the reasons to immediately stop as a paid football player.