The mention of racism can trigger irrational reactions in Germany; most Germans carry the burden of a guilt complex because of the Shoa, which makes the open-minded acknowledgement of the presence of racism in German society difficult. Yet, as in all societies, racism is an everyday phenomenon. This becomes particularly evident in the soccer arenas.
Just the other day, the Bremen state government issued what they call a Development Plan for Participation and Integration, a strategic document on diversity policies. It identifies 14 field of action in which to confront the need for promoting diversity in Bremen’s urban society in the coming four years. There is also a chapter on sports determining this field as one of the main areas for action. The text does not mention racism. Yet, it is well known that German sports are a playground for all known forms and variants of racism. There is structural racism in the shape of discrimination against people with a different cultural background. But there is also common or garden racism in the way people treat each other, as anybody will confirm who has overheard competitors defile and try to intimidate each other using racist swear words, or who has listened to a crowd making “ape noises” when a midfield player with black African roots passes the ball. Likewise, “Zigeuner”, a derogatory term for Sinti and Roma is frequently used by hooligans to infuriate and provoke opponents, notwithstanding the fact that some of the best German soccer players were Sinti (like Gerd Müller, famous Bayern Munich striker).
Only a few weeks ago, a soccer Bundesliga player hailing from Israel, Itay Shechter, was showered with antisemitic abuses by spectators. The board of FC Kaiserslautern, the club in question, has made efforts to spot the culprits and has in fact officially reported the incident to the police. Kaiserslautern chairman Stefan Kuntz declared at a press conference that such “derailments” were not to be tolerated “either now or in future” by the club’s leadership.
Dieter Graumann, presiding the Central Council of Jews in Germany, is quoted as calling the Kaiserslautern incident a shame and scandal for German soccer. He deplored that the national soccer association, DFB, has not come out with a „faster and louder“ reaction on what happened. Although the majority of Kaiserslautern fans displayed their unmistakable support for Itay Shechter, the DFB should have done more than just verbally denouncing the perpetrators as „yesterday people“ (a common euphemism for right-wingers in Germany) or, less politely, „stark staring idiots“.
In defence of the DFB, people have hinted to the fact that the soccer association has been awarding the Julius Hirsch Prize for seven years now. This award commemorates a German national team member of the thirties murdered in Auschwitz. DFB President Wolfgang Niersbach is adamant in continuing the policy of this predecessor, Theo Zwanziger, ostracizing anti-Semitism, anti-Ciganism, racism, sexism, and homophobia in society as well as on the sportsfield. From its charity matches, the DFB’s national team contributes funds towards a foundation with the explicit aim of promoting efforts to curb racist and sexist phenomena in sports. The team management will also use the occasion of the European Cup in Poland and the Ukraine in summer to pay a visit to the Auschwitz memorial, a spokesman said.
Late in May, the German side will play Israel in what will be the final test game before the European Cup. This has been agreed between Niersbach and Ori Shilo, Secretay General of Israel’s national soccer association. The Germans have made it a point that the game was scheduled away from Sabbath to enable observant Jews to watch it. Israel has been a member of UEFA since 1994.