German coach apologizes for sexist remarks to female refs

BERLIN (AP) — A German coach who told female match officials that “women don’t belong on a football pitch” has said he offered to train a women’s soccer team by way of apology for his sexist remarks.

“It was never my intention to propose this as a part of any form of punishment,” Borussia Mönchengladbach under-23 coach Heiko Vogel said late Tuesday. “I put it forward as a suggestion to show that I wanted to apologize to the girls and women playing football at Borussia.”

Vogel said he made the suggestion to the sports court of the West German soccer association (WDFV) when his case was being heard following his sexist comments to officials Vanessa Arlt and Nadine Westerhoff at a game involving his team on Jan. 30.

“I regret my behavior very much. Following my sending off, I had an emotional outburst in which I said that women don’t belong on a football pitch. It was stupid, unsportsmanlike, and discriminatory. My statement is absolutely unjustifiable, and I would like to make it clear that it does not reflect my personal attitude,” Vogel said in a statement on the club website.

Vogel was banned for two games and fined 1,500 euros ($1,800) by the court, with Gladbach imposing an additional club fine.

“During the WDFV hearing, Heiko Vogel offered to lead several training sessions for Borussia’s women’s teams alongside his personal apology. This was included in writing as a condition in the final verdict,” the club said.

The court’s verdict said Vogel was ordered to take charge of six training sessions of a women’s or girls’ team before June 30 as part of his punishment.

This caused widespread criticism. The WDFV called for a review of the decision, the German soccer federation (DFB) slammed the “incomprehensible” judgment, and female soccer players from across Germany’s top two divisions issued a joint-statement on Saturday in which they asked “how the training of a women’s or girls’ team can be defined as punishment” and said it “discriminates against all women in sport.” It was shared by Germany captain Alexandra Popp among others.

“We’re in the year 2021!!!” Popp wrote on Instagram.

DFB president Fritz Keller held a video conference with Popp and Germany goalkeeper Almuth Schult on Monday.

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

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. I promised our female players my full support.”

Vogel said he understood the anger caused by his offer being perceived as a punishment and not as a means of apology.

“My intention was always to follow up my verbal apology with action,” said Vogel, who said he still hopes to coach a female team.

“It’s something that I would very much like to do, as it is very important to me that I am able to apologize to all the female players. Among footballers, I know that the best way of doing that is to work together out on the pitch,” Vogel said. “But this will only go ahead if the players want to take part.”

Gladbach sporting director Max Eberl last week criticized Vogel for his comments to the officials.

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

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