What really happened between former Bundesliga coach André Fuhr and dozens of handball players has not been fully clarified even a year after the serious allegations. The athletes’ allegations are serious.

An independent commission is now working on the case. It will be many months before a final report is available. Accusations – this time from Fuhr – are already causing a new stir. The commission and athlete representatives react clearly.

With their immediate termination from Borussia Dortmund, national players Mia Zschocke and Amelie Berger made the case public in September 2022. As a result, other female athletes came forward who said they had suffered psychologically from Fuhr’s training methods. Both the Bundesliga club from Dortmund and the DHB, where the 52-year-old worked as a U20 coach, then ended their collaboration with Fuhr.

Silence broken

The accused himself only broke his silence last week. “Of course it’s easy to say, but it wasn’t like that, or the context isn’t reproduced correctly, but here it’s much more complex. It’s all about perceptions and personal feelings, which you can’t deny to anyone,” said Fuhr in the “Sport Bild” on the allegations and added: “Based on what I have read, I can only say: There are facts that did not take place. There are facts that did not take place. There are facts that did which I cannot remember in the form described or have another memory.”

The coach also complained that he only knew about many of the allegations from the media. He cannot understand why the commission has not yet questioned him. “I just don’t understand how they want to clarify things without hearing from me yet,” said Fuhr.

Systematic process

An accusation that the commission addresses as follows: Those affected, those involved and witnesses are currently being questioned in a systematic process. “In this process, Mr. Fuhr will also be heard and given the opportunity to comment on the allegations. This was already communicated to Mr. Fuhr transparently and some time ago,” said Commissioner Bettina Rulofs of the German Press Agency. The committee determines the time of the hearing “regardless of whether Mr. Fuhr comments in media interviews.”

DHB President Andreas Michelmann also reiterated that Fuhr had to be heard. “But if the commission prioritizes dealing with those affected, it is clear that it will only come next. If we get involved there, the commission will no longer be independent.”

The committee consists of six experts. Rulofs is one of them. The professor conducts research at the Cologne Sports University on structures in sport that conceal or promote violence. “The body of athletes is disciplined so that it can withstand a lot, so that physical attacks by people from the sports environment are trivialized,” explained Rulofs.

In addition, athletes often focus their lives exclusively on sport. “If violent attacks take place in such an environment, it is difficult for those affected to disclose this because they would endanger a system in which they are very closely integrated and have invested a lot.”

Power and dependency relationships

In this context, Rulofs also warned about the conditions of power and dependency relationships between coaches and athletes. “Dependency relationships are always dangerous when it comes to nominations for team lineups or squad affiliations. This is often about existential aspects when sporting careers are destroyed due to non-nominations,” said Rulofs. The enormous pressure could force athletes to endure violent attacks.

How the handball players are doing today is unclear. When asked by the dpa, none of those affected wanted to comment. “Experiences of violence often result in long-term psychotherapeutic care,” said “Anlauf gegen Violence”, an initiative of Athletes Germany, in response to a dpa request. For top athletes, these experiences could mean the end of their careers.

The offer of help for top athletes has existed since May 2022. Berger and Zschocke, who now play for new clubs, also turned to the initiative. “A total of 187 people seeking help in the fight against violence have so far come forward. There have also been 70 requests for advice from sports institutions,” said a spokeswoman.

Athletes Germany believes it is appropriate that the commission’s work is designed to last 18 months. “Unreasonable time pressure can lead to errors and negligence,” it said in a statement. Mistakes that, in the worst case, harm those affected a second time.