[News] Will Racism Come Home to Roost in the "New" Germany?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 12 08:49:11 EDT 2006


Weekend Edition
June 10 / 11, 2006

World Cup 2006

Will Racism Come Home to Roost in the "New" Germany?


The most watched tournament in the universe, the 
World Cup, opens today amid fears that an open 
and violent racism could upstage the games, 
humiliate its German hosts, and provide an 
international platform for Neo-Nazi swill. The 
rising number of attacks on non-whites in 
Germany, combined with a spate of racist 
sloganeering and taunting of black soccer players 
throughout Europe, has set the stage for an 
unprecedented display of racism on a global 
sports stage. The argument here is that the 
German government and the EU have only themselves 
to blame. These are chickens coming home to roost.

The sewers where Neo-Nazis nestle, have been 
buzzing with using the World Cup as political 
platform since the day Munich was awarded the 
games. The German government, however, dutifully 
ignored the Reich rumblings, preparing instead 
for the corporate bonanza that accompanies the 
Cup. Yet the current climate could have been 
easily predicted if German officials had bothered 
to lift their face from the haystacks of Euros or 
recognize the repercussions of their own rhetoric.

First there has been the growing pattern of 
"football racism" across the continent. In late 
February, Cameroonian FC Barcelona star Samuel 
Eto'o almost walked off the pitch after being 
showered by "fans" with monkey chants and 
peanuts. Last November, Messina's Marc Zoro 
picked up the ball and threatened to walk off the 
field because of racist chants from followers of 
Inter Milan. These are only the most well 
publicized stories. There are countless tales of 
players of African origin being treated, in the 
words of one, "worse than dogs." This has gotten 
even more play in the United States as US star 
DaMarcus Beasley has recounted tales of monkey 
noises and tossed banana skins that trail him 
every time his foot touches the ball.

This has been aggravated by the rise of 
anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe that has of 
course become de rigueur in the United States as 
well. Shaun Harkin, who played for Coleraine FC 
in the Northern Irish League and captained Brown 
University's soccer squad to the NCAA 
quarterfinals, now works as an immigrant-rights 
activist in Chicago. He said to us, "The racist 
abuse players have faced across Europe is an 
aspect of the growing 
backlash against immigrants. Immigration from 
former European colonies has grown. As in the 
United States, immigration has been necessary for 
many European economies and a source of cheap 
labor-but immigrant communities have also been a 
convenient political scapegoat in a continent 
riddled with unemployment and increasingly 
anxious conditions for workers dealing with the 
repercussions of deepening neo-liberal policies." 
In other words,t he German government wants to 
have it both ways: it's proper to foment 
anti-Muslim bigotry, tighten immigration 
restrictions and attack asylum seekers, but 
anti-black racism shouldn't be allowed to sully 
our reputation or diminish the grandeur of this highly profitable spectacle.

Their political head was firmly ensconced in the 
sand until a man named Uwe-Karsten Heye upturned 
the apple car. Heye, a former spokesman for the 
Social Democratic-Green coalition government, 
said, "There are small and mid-sized towns in 
Brandenburg and elsewhere where I would advise 
anyone [in the country for the World Cup] with a 
different skin color not to go. They might not 
make it out alive." Heye, a co-founder of an 
anti-racist group called "Show Your Face," was 
slammed for his comments. In Brandenburg, State 
Premier Matthias Platzeck, a fellow Social 
Democrat, called his words an "absurd slur of a 
whole region that is no way justifiable." 
Wolfgang Bosback, a leading Christian Democrat 
parliamentarian, denounced Heye for singling out 
Brandenburg. But Bosback was at least equally 
alarmed by the prospect that such comments would 
damage the tourist industry, saying it would be 
"fatal" if Heye's comments kept people from Germany.

The government found, however, that people both 
at home and abroad were more concerned with the 
message than the messenger. As a columnist in 
Berlin's daily Die Tageszeitung wrote, "the fact 
that non-Germans or non-white Germans can barely 
move around in safety is [the real] scandal," not Heye's comments.

Spurred to action, Interior Minister Wolfgang 
Schäuble promised that his government would "not 
tolerate any form of extremism, xenophobia or 
anti-Semitism." Shäuble's solution, from the Dick 
Cheney school of diplomacy, is to station tanks 
outside soccer stadiums. Schäuble, it should be 
noted has "balanced" his promises of combating 
racism by adding, "Blond and blue-eyed Germans 
can also become the victims of violence, 
sometimes attacked by those who don't have a German (family) background."

The international soccer body FIFA has made 
toothless pledges to combat racism at the Cup. 
Their plans include two "anti-racism days," where 
banners will be draped at each game reading, "Say 
No to Racism"-although they will be taken down at 
beginning of the game. This is what a FIFA 
spokesperson called a "clear message." Thank 
goodness some players have taken stronger stands. 
In last month's European club championship, 
French superstar Thierry Henry sported an armband 
promoting an antiracist campaign called Stand Up 
Speak Up. Henry pushed his sponsor Nike to 
produce black and white intertwined armbands that 
demonstrate a commitment against racism. So far, 
they have sold more than five million. "That's 
important in making the very real point that 
racism is a problem for everyone, a collective 
ailment," Henry said to Time Magazine. "It shows 
that people of all colors, even adversaries on 
the pitch, are banding together in this, because 
we're all suffering from it together."

In addition to Henry's initiatives, Muslim and 
Christian religious leaders organized a very 
successful Berlin game in early May. The best 
hope for a Cup without racism won't be found in 
the CDU's tanks but in the numerous antiracist 
groups in Germany that will be on the ground, 
including Football Against Racism (FARE), a 
European-wide network that has pressured FIFA to 
take concrete measures. FARE speaks for the 
majority of the world when they say that they 
want to see the 'beautiful game' played without 
the cancer of racism." But if the ugly head of 
hate is raised, the blame should extend beyond the thugs.

Dave Zirin is the author of "'What's My name 
Fool?'": Sports and Resistance in the united 
States. Contact him at <mailto:dave at edgeofsports.com>dave at edgeofsports.com

John Cox is an assistant professor of History at 
Florida Gulf Coast University, and hopes to see 
Mexico shock the world in Germany.

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