Hertha Berlin suspends Kalou for video flouting virus rules

BERLIN (AP) — Hertha Berlin suspended and heavily criticized its striker Salomon Kalou for broadcasting a livestream showing social distancing measures being flouted at the club.

The Ivory Coast player took his phone with him on Monday as he fist-bumped teammates in greeting, clapped hands with fellow forward Vedad Ibisevic, complained about a pay cut, and burst in on a teammate apparently being tested for the new coronavirus.

“Kalou did not only cause great damage to Hertha BSC with his video, but has given the impression that individual players are not taking the coronavirus issue seriously, especially in the current discussion about a resumption of play and professional soccer’s role,” Hertha general manager Michael Preetz said.

The footage, which has since been deleted, was broadcast on the same day the German soccer league (DFL) reported 10 positive cases of COVID-19 among the country’s 36 clubs in the top two divisions, and it appeared to contradict the league’s assertion that everything was being done to prevent the spread of the virus.

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It showed Hertha’s Jordan Torunarigha being tested by a physiotherapist who was wearing only a simple face mask as protection. The physiotherapist, David de Mel, repeatedly asked Kalou to “delete” the video, before the player walked away laughing, saying he was “only joking.”

The club laid the blame squarely on Kalou.

“Hertha BSC would like to state that this was the failure of a single player. The fact that other team members did not draw his attention to this misconduct and instead returned his greeting by handshake shows that the regular references to distance and hygiene rules must be made even more strongly,” Hertha said in a statement.

The club said it was suspending Kalou “with immediate effect” without saying when he will return.

Kalou apologized for the footage.

“I am sorry if I gave the impression that I am not taking corona seriously. I want to apologize for that. The opposite is the case because I am particularly worried about the people in Africa as medical care there is nowhere near as good as it is in Germany,” Kalou said. “I didn’t really think, and was happy that all our tests were negative. I would also like to apologize to those shown in the video, who did not know that I was broadcasting live and who I did not want to put in such a situation.”

The DFL sharply criticized the footage on Twitter.

“The pictures from Salomon Kalou from the changing room of Hertha BSC are completely unacceptable. There cannot be any tolerance for it – also with regard to the players and clubs who are adhering to the guidelines, because they have grasped the seriousness of the situation,” the DFL said.

Kicker magazine said the video would damage efforts to restart the Bundesliga as it was “grist to the mill for critics who want to see professional soccer remain on hold.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel and 16 state governors are due to decide on Wednesday whether the league can resume without fans present. She previously warned there was still a danger that COVID-19 infections could rise if containment measures were relaxed too soon.

The DFL said earlier that 1,724 tests for COVID-19 were carried out over two rounds among players, coaches, physiotherapists and other staff as part of its hygiene concept in a bid to restart competitive games some time in May.

Only four possible cases had been reported before the league’s report on Monday. Cologne on Friday said it had three positive cases, while second-division side Stuttgart reported one “inconclusive result” from a person on Sunday.

“The responsibility for compliance with general hygiene rules is a prerequisite every day for each individual,” the league said in its report.

Clubs across the top two divisions have committed to finishing the season by the end of June.

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Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

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