German soccer chief slams discrimination facing female stars

Wolfsburg's Alexandra Popp reacts as she walks to receive her runner-up medal after losing to Lyon in the Women's Champions League soccer final at Anoeta Stadium, in San Sebastian, Spain, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. (Sergo Perez/Pool via AP)

BERLIN -- German soccer federation president Fritz Keller has slammed the structural discrimination facing female players in his country.

Keller made his comments on Tuesday, after a video conference the day before with Germany captain Alexandra Popp and goalkeeper Almuth Schult to discuss the fall-out from a sports court case that, apparently, ordered a male coach to take charge of a female team's training sessions as part of his punishment for verbally abusing female match officials.

``It was a worthwhile and open exchange about the stones that are placed in the way of our female soccer players,'' Keller said. ``They are still at times hugely disadvantaged structurally. It's not acceptable.''

The 63-year-old federation president said it was ``very important'' to address Popp and Schult in response to an open letter from female players across the top two divisions in which they, on Saturday, condemned the decision made on March 9 in the case against Borussia Monchengladbach under-23 coach Heiko Vogel at the sports court of the West German regional soccer association (WDFV).

Vogel reportedly made sexist comments to Vanessa Arlt and Nadine Westerhoff at a game involving his team on Jan. 30. The court fined him 1,500 euros ($1,800), banned him for two league games and ordered him to take charge of six training sessions of a women's or girls' team before June 30.

The players asked in their open letter ``how the training of a women's or girls' team can be defined as punishment'' and said the judgment ``discriminates against all women in sport.''

Keller also criticized the court's judgement and said the players had his full support.

``The preposterous statement and inconceivable `punishment' of coaching a women's team are only a manifestation of thought patterns that are unfortunately still far too widespread in soccer today,'' he said.

Keller added it was important ``that we all fight against it together.''

On Saturday, federation vice-president Hannelore Ratzeburg slammed the court's judgement and welcomed the regional association's call for it to be reviewed.

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl had already criticized Vogel for his comments to the officials.

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