Schalke 04 head of board Clemens Tonnies has stepped down after weeks of fan pressure due a host of off-field issues including racist comments, which had led to his suspension.
Tonnies, 64, had been the head of the Schalke supervisory board since 2001, but this season came under increasing pressure following racist remarks he made at a speech in August 2019, which led to a three-month suspension from the club’s honorary board. Tonnies had said “overpopulation was also down to lack of power plants in Africa which led to an increased production of babies in the dark.”
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The length of the suspension was deemed insufficient by several of the club’s fan groups and led to one member of the honorary council resigning.
Following Tonnies’ return in late 2019, the club not only ran into a sporting crisis which would see them go without a win in the league for 16 games from January to the end of the season — their last Bundesliga win was on Jan. 17 — but also a crisis which was called “a declaration of moral bankruptcy” by one of the club’s Ultra groups last week.
Debts are mounting at the club. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Schalke announced they ended 2019 with liabilities close to €197.9 million. They already expected more losses in 2020, and when the pandemic interrupted the season, the club called described the effects as “existence threatening.” They reacted by taking money-saving measures, which included the layoff of 24 drivers with mini-job contracts worth €450-a-month.
When a coronavirus outbreak at Tonnies’ main meat processing plant laid bare a system of inhumane working conditions for the mostly migrant workers, the fans and those near to the club started what one source told ESPN was a “war on multiple fronts” against the head of the supervisory board.
Banners, interviews, a human chain around the Veltins Arena and social media activities increased the pressure amid new media reports on the club’s financial struggles.
On Sunday, reports in Germany laid bare the club’s precarious financial situation amid claims of a looming salary cap. It has also been suggested the club may need a €40m state guarantee to keep them going over the summer.
Schalke hail from Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr-Area. Although they have never won a Bundesliga title and their last German championship dates back to the 1950s, they have one of the biggest fanbases in Germany and they regularly sell out their 62,000-capacity stadium.