In case you were under the impression that soccer (or sports, more broadly) offered an escape from the troubles of the world:
Bundesliga outfit Darmstadt released one of their players yesterday for alleged ties to an Islamic extremist movement in Germany.
The story focuses on Anis Ben-Hatira, a 28-year-old midfielder who’s spent his career exclusively in German football. (He did have a trial with West Ham in 2010, but nothing came of it.) He has 11 caps for Tunisia and, while never quite managing the kind of breakthrough year that would’ve earned him looks from the likes Bayern or Dortmund, has been a solid contributor for lower-table Bundesliga teams in need of a #10.
In recent weeks, Ben-Hatira’s charitable contributions have become a point of contention at the club. At last Saturday’s game against Borussia Mönchengladbach (which ended in a goalless draw), Darmstadt supporters unveiled a banner calling on Ben-Hatira to cut ties with Ansaar International. That organization— a humanitarian aid group tasked with reaching out to victims of violence and displacement in Syria, Afghanistan, and Palestine— has been under fire from German authorities over alleged links to ultra-conservative Salafist elements in the country.
Since the game, Ben-Hatira made a series of posts on his Facebook page defending his ties to the organization and refusing to back away under pressure.
Yesterday, Darmstadt decided Ben-Hatira and the Ansaar controversy were more trouble than he was worth and released him from his contract. Club president Ruediger Fritsch commented that Darmstadt “feels Ben-Hatira’s private humanitarian assistance for the organization, the one he is serving, is wrong.”
German politicians— almost certainly feeling pressure from a resurgent far-right ahead of the country’s elections— praised Darmstadt’s move. Peter Beuth, an interior minister for the state of Hesse and a prominent member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party, said that something had to be done.
”You cannot let a professional footballer like Ben-Hatira carry on when he’s in the vicinity of extremist organizations that are being observed by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. You have to draw a clear line here.”
Following his release, Ben-Hatira went on Facebook to thank his supporters and say that a more in-depth statement, as well as plans for the future, would be forthcoming.