Former refugee Bakery Jatta in identity dispute in Germany

August 26, 2019

BERLIN (AP) — Bakery Jatta has caused a stir in Germany just by taking his place on the field.

The 21-year-old Hamburg forward, the first refugee to play in the Bundesliga, has become the subject of a dispute regarding his identity.

Hamburg, which now plays in the second division, has his back, and so do the German soccer league and the country's soccer federation.

"As there is no evidence so far of the player's false identity, the eligibility of Bakery Jatta, born on June 6, 1998, remains valid," the federation and German soccer league said in a statement on Aug. 12.

Jatta has appeared in all of Hamburg's games so far this season. The dispute began when Sport Bild magazine reported that Jatta - a Gambian refugee who made his debut for Hamburg in April 2017 - has been playing under a false name and is in fact two years older than he claims.

Two rival teams, Bochum and Nuremberg, have lodged appeals with the German soccer federation after losing their league games to Hamburg, citing the media reports and questioning Jatta's eligibility to play.

Bild has been criticized for its coverage of the case and was forced to apologize for mistakenly using a photo of Jatta's teammate, Gideon Jung, for an editorial column on the subject. Both players are black.

"The one positive: Jatta (or however he's really called now) is no one who scares us," sports editor Walter M. Straten wrote in the Aug. 8 column. "No Islamist, terrorist or serious criminal. He just wants to play football."

Der Spiegel followed up Bild's report by saying Hamburg had been aware of questions over Jatta's identity when it signed him in June 2016, but had "little interest in explaining the case."

Jatta has made 28 appearances for Hamburg in the second division and 16 in the Bundesliga. Hamburg was relegated in 2018.

Authorities told the "Hamburger Abendblatt" newspaper that Jatta entered Germany without a passport in 2015 and was subsequently issued with a valid passport from Gambia.

At a hearing with the federation last week, Hamburg sporting director Jonas Boldt, club chairman Bernd Hoffmann, player agent Efe Aktas and a lawyer accompanied Jatta as he made his case.

"We haven't changed our stance or our position because of Bochum's appeal," Boldt said. "We continue to completely stand behind our player and fellow human being Bakery Jatta. During his appearance at the DFB's control and disciplinary committee he did all that he could to create clarity in the situation."

Both Darmstadt, which drew with Hamburg in its league opener, and Chemnitzer FC, which Hamburg defeated on penalties in the German Cup, decided not to appeal the results of their games. But Bochum followed Nuremberg's lead and Hamburg's next opponent, Karlsruher SC, was apparently deliberating making an appeal if it drops points and Jatta plays on Saturday.

"We continue to see absolutely no reason not to play him due to mere accusations," Boldt said. "I am repeating myself, but we are talking about other clubs appealing results due to speculation and assumptions, where we as a club then have the burden of proof. That really is absurd."

Fans, players and even rival supporters have been showing their support for Jatta.

"This is someone who is integrated, who earns his money here, who pays taxes and everyone is happy. Why does someone need to go digging to make such a story out of it?" Ewald Lienen, the technical director of city rival St. Pauli, told broadcaster NDR. "It's ridiculous."