Berlin — Borussia Dortmund said Sunday they would stand by England midfielder Jude Bellingham, who faces potential sanctions and even legal consequences after he made explosive comments about the referee after his side's 3-2 defeat to Bayern Munich on Saturday.
"The boy is 18 years old and was speaking after a heated and emotional game. We will stand by him," Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc told AFP-subsidiary SID.
Bellingham risks being punished by the German Football Federation (DFB) after claiming costly decisions by referee Felix Zwayer were to be expected given he was implicated in the worst match-fixing scandal in German history.
The 18-year-old England international was furious that Zwayer had not awarded a penalty to his side in the second-half, before giving one to Bayern which allowed Robert Lewandowski to score the winner in the top of the table clash.
"You can look at a lot of the decisions in the game. If you give a referee who has match-fixed before the biggest game in Germany, what do you expect?" Bellingham told Norwegian channel Viaplay.
He was referring to Zwayer's alleged role as a 23-year-old linesman in the scandal involving referee Robert Hoyzer.
The latter confessed to taking Croatian mafia money in return for affecting the outcome of German Cup and lower division matches including awarding penalties for fictitious offences.
Hoyzer was jailed and Zwayer suspended for six months for keeping silent though he knew what the referee was doing and for accepting 300 euros ($340).
No definitive link between the match-fixing and Zwayer has ever been established and he has always said he was innocent.
The DFB told AFP-subsidiary SID they would be reviewing whether Bellingham's comments were "relevant from a sport sanctions perspective".
Bild tabloid also reported Sunday that one of the DFB's official observers had pressed libel charges against Bellingham, but Dortmund insisted that they saw no reason to fear legal consequences.
"I don't see anything problematic from a legal perspective," Zorc told SID.
"What he said isn't wrong, even if he didn't have to say it. You have to put it down to the emotions of an 18-year-old. Jude didn't insult anyone, he stated a fact. I can't imagine there will be any penalties for that," Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke told Kicker magazine.
Bellingham could face a heavy punishment if the DFB do decide to impose sanctions, as the federation has previously taken a dim view of referees being subjected to what they see as defamatory statements or accusations they judge offensive.
The England midfielder also faced criticism for his comments, which Bayern CEO Oliver Kahn said were "a step too far".
"I can't ever remember a player making a comment of that kind before," Kahn told Sky on Saturday.
Bellingham was not alone in questioning Zwayer's decisions in a heated game on Saturday evening.
Dortmund coach Marco Rose was shown a red card after arguing with Zwayer over his awarding of the penalty 12 minutes from time.
"His performance wasn't good enough for a game of this level, he was overwhelmed. It was a great game, which was decided by the referee," Zorc told SID.