Germany reacts maturely after Bundesliga referee attempts suicide
After the resignation of president Wolfgang Overath earlier in the week, FC Köln would probably have been hoping for a weekend in which they could focus entirely on playing football. No one could have expected that, instead, the club would find itself embroiled in another, even bigger off field scandal.
Köln’s home fixture against Mainz 05 was postponed indefinitely on Saturday following the unexpected absence of referee Babak Rafati. The 41 year old referee of Iranian descent was later confirmed to have attempted suicide, and was taken to a Cologne hospital. While initial reports from Sky Germany described his condition as “critical”, DFB President Theo Zwanziger later confirmed that Rafati was stable.
If the opportunistic theorists, conspiracy or otherwise, are impossible to avoid, it is a credit to the German football world’s maturity that the immediate reaction was almost unanimously one of sensitivity and sympathy. After a week in which Zwanziger and the DFB had responded bullishly to questions over his alleged reaction to the tax evasion scandal currently engulfing German referees, it was with a mature sense of perspective that the media and relevant organisations reacted to Rafati’s situation. The cancellation of the game against Mainz was a gesture which echoed the sentiments of Huub Stevens: “Rafati’s well being is the most important thing; next to it, football is of secondary importance,” the Schalke 04 manager said.
The media, for their part, have been equally sensible. In the immediate coverage, glib judgements and theories were all but nowhere to be seen, with almost all sports news outlets giving a more balanced and reasonable presentation of the necessary facts than is ever seen in other stories, on or off the field.
That the football world has reacted so sympathetically is no coincidence. The shock of Saturday’s events is accentuated by the eeriness of its timing, with events unfolding just over a week after the two year anniversary of former Hannover 96 and Germany keeper Robert Enke’s tragic suicide. Last week, the messages of remembrance and support for Enke’s family were as emphatic two years after his death as they were in the immediate aftermath; the imprint that his tragedy has left upon German football is clear to see. Albeit with a sense of tragic familiarity, it is fair to say that the heartening reaction to the Rafati case has been moulded by its inherent nature as a stark and in many cases painful reminder of Enke’s death.
Theo Zwanziger and others have spoken of the immense pressure of the modern game, Enke’s tragedy has certainly had a formative effect on the way German football deals with such sensitive issues of depression and mental health. His posthumous biography, among other coverage, has opened many eyes to what is a more widespread issue than one might realise. Over the last few years, the mental and emotional pressure of the highly charged modern game has seen high profile figures such as Sebastian Deisler and, more recently, Ralf Rangnick detach themselves entirely from professional football.
We are still largely unaware of the finer details of Rafati’s own situation, but the fact that there seems no hurry to publicly investigate such matters is yet another indication of the mature approach that has been taken. There has, for the most part, been no hysteria, no accusations and no heartless and thoughtless condemnations, either of Rafati himself or the decision to postpone the game. A painfully familiar situation this might be for German football, but it is that familiarity which has facilitated a largely impressive reaction. Football is religion in Germany, but it is not, as Bill Shankly once joked that it might be, a matter more important than life and death. Football and scandal can play second fiddle for once. For now, the important thing is that Rafati’s case is treated with the understanding and the sympathy it deserves.
Picture:Getty ImagesTagged in: Bundesliga, DFB, football, germany
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter