Throw-in: the DFB’s Jadon Sancho ruling is a triumph for anti-racism

slippery slope

Several Bundesliga players made displays of support for the George Floyd protests stateside. The DFB sprung to assess the implications of this. Why?

When he scored his first goal in Borussia Dortmund’s game against Paderborn, Jadon Sancho removed his shirt to reveal an undershirt. Written on that undershirt were the words “Justice for George Floyd”. Achraf Hakimi followed suit. Elsewhere in the league, players made similar gestures rejecting racism and showing solidarity for the protesters in the US.

Almost immediately, the DFB announced that it would look into these actions. And just as quickly, people reacted to it. How could it be that the DFB would contemplate punishing players who took a reasonable stance against a real problem? If FIFA, UEFA and most national federations preach anti-racism so vehemently, where’s the coherence?

Investigation, not punishment

The word “investigation” carries somewhat of a bad rep on its back. It raises eyebrows when it is uttered. It seems to people that somebody investigating something immediately implies wrongdoing. While this may be the case a lot of the time, it’s safe to say it wasn’t in this opportunity.

The Laws of the Game ban political messages on equipment. IFAB regulation states that no political or religious message is to be displayed on shirts, shorts, socks, boots or anything that players or technical staff use on the pitch. The “Justice for George Floyd” message refers to a very complicated set of circumstances that the DFB felt needed reviewing. Did that mean that finding Sancho, Hakimi, Weston McKennie and Marcus Thuram guilty of violating regulation was a foregone conclusion? No. It most certainly didn’t.

And sure enough, the DFB announced that there would be no action regarding these players’ demonstrations. Their review found that what the players did falls entirely in line with the DFB’s values and their own outlook on the racism issue. These were demonstrations of solidarity in light of a human tragedy. It wasn’t a matter of players pointing fingers at Donald Trump or making cheap politics out of it. It was humanity. Plain and simple.

The DFB saw that and went “fair enough. This is good. As you were”. The process worked.

Almighty precedent

While the conclusion that players’ demonstrations this weekend was nothing short of commendable to you and me, the DFB needed to be careful. “Political messages” is a phrase that could, in the wrong hands, be twisted and made too broad. They needed to set the process of review and ruling into motion, if only for the sake of precedent.

The DFB can say it looked at anti-racist messaging and deemed it fair. Nobody can bend the “political messages” rule to their advantage saying “well, they looked away when Sancho supported protests in the US”. Anti-racism is not political, it’s entrenched in the DFB’s values as far as the organisation is concerned. Almighty precedent indeed. You and I knew it beforehand, and now it’s written in stone.