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FOOTBALL

Football club Union Berlin ditches sponsor over Stasi past

Berlin’s second-tier football club, 1.FC Union, has ditched its main sponsor following revelations the company's chairman had once been an officer with East Germany's dreaded secret police, the Stasi.

Football club Union Berlin ditches sponsor over Stasi past
Photo: DPA

Union’s President Dirk Zingler late on Monday severed the sponsorship deal that would have given the club €10 million over five years with International Sport Promotion (ISP) after news magazine Der Spiegel revealed that the company’s supervisory chairman Jürgen Czilinsky had served at the East German Ministry for State Security.

The club leadership made clear this was incompatible with Union’s famous anti-authoritarian reputation in communist East Germany and that it was terminating its contract with ISP because Czilinsky did not disclose his past.

“Further cooperation under these conditions, even taking into consideration the legal and economic consequences for the club, wasn’t possible,” Zingler told the Berliner Morgenpost on Tuesday.

During the Union’s time in the East German league, it had an intense rivalry with Dynamo Berlin, which counted the country’s state security minister, Erich Mielke, as its chairman. The Stasi chief used his power to make sure the team was stacked with the best players the now defunct German Democratic Republic had to offer, resulting in 10 league titles from 1979 to 1988. After the country collapsed in 1989 officials found that many of those titles were aided by bribed referees and fishy player transfers.

As a result of their anti-Stasi reputation, 1.FC Union developed an anti-establishment fan base and became a tolerated, unofficial opposition in the communist state. Fans sang tunes that were thinly-veiled attacks on the East German authorities while the club never finished higher than seventh place in the league.

Since joining a reunified German football league (DFL), Union had financial woes, twice losing out on opportunities to move into a higher level of play because of money problems, however, the club’s supervisory chairman Antonio Hurtado said this week’s decision was about the fans and not a business decision.

“The club’s leadership cannot be diverted from its former path – that has always been our guarantee for success,” he said.

Union are currently leading the Bundesliga’s second division after being promoted last season.

But unless a comparable sponsor can be found quickly, the Union may have to scale back its proposed €12.2 million budget. It also had plans to pay off an estimated €15 million debt incurred by renovations to its beloved Alte Försterei stadium.

The DFL still has to approve the team’s decision.

The sponsor affair is an unwanted distraction from its excellent start to season. The Berlin team squares off against football giants Bayern Munich in a friendly match on Wednesday evening.

ISP is registered with the Chamber of Commerce in Dubai and is part of umbrella company ISO International Development and Consulting GmbH, which has an office in Berlin. Its business includes environmental management, raw material developments as well as renewable energy technology.

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FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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