October 7, 2023, was a dark day. Hamas attacked Israel on an unprecedented scale. The attack has drawn condemnation from all corners as it highlighted the nature of this organisation and their intentions: destroy their neighbouring country.
In football, this attack has left traces as well. Fans and players alike have voiced their opinions. However, while the fans’ points of view often demonstrated some reflection, this cannot be said about all players. Two examples shall be shown here to underline this point.
One is Anwar al-Ghazi from Mainz 05 the other Noussair Mazraoui from Bayern Munich. The reaction from either club could have been more different and indicates that even the boards of directors have diverging points of view.
Mainz 05: suspension – until further notice?
The club from the Rhineland-Palatine have acted swiftly after learning about the Instagram post of their player, Anwar al-Ghazi: he was suspended from training and from matches in the foreseeable future. The post was anti-Israel in nature and the club have stated that it was “against the values of the club” adding that opinions may differ. These views differ quite significantly in this case.
Bayern – let’s talk (and forget) about this
In contrast to this Bayern have a similar situation at their hands and acted diametrically opposed: Noussair Mazraoui was not suspended, largely due to his club in urgent need of him as coach Thomas Tuchel has no defenders available: Raphaël Guerreiro and Dayot Upamecano are sidelined with injuries. This need of Mazraoui has drawn criticism from the president of the Maccabi sports organisation in Germany, Alon Meyer.
Fatal Signal by Bayern
Indeed it is a fatal signal sent out by Bayern to their fans and to society at large. The player has stated that he despises terror and terrorism. Yet, one of the reserve keepers at Bayern is an Israeli and thus directly affected by the tragedy. Mazraoui has not only shown insensitivity towards the region but also against one of his colleagues.
In the larger picture, this stance by Bayern is not surprising. They have been sponsored by Hamad Airport in Qatar – a country not known for its human rights record. Lately, Bayern have begun a partnership with “Visit Rwanda” a likewise dubious partner. A tourism campaign run by the state in order to attract visitors from abroad. However, the situation in Rwanda is anything but secure for journalists as human rights watch states. Nor is it for the citizens. Yet, Bayern indirectly support sports washing on behalf of the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame.
From the outside, it looks like Bayern have no qualms to attach themselves to people and causes that are dubious, to say the least. Their fanbase opposes this outright.
The image this presents is one of a lack of character in the boardroom of Germany’s best-known and most successful club. In the face of this, the suspension Mainz 05 have issued to Anwar al-Ghazi seems courageous, despite them needing any player available in order to stay in the top division.
Freedom of Expression
There is of course the right to express your opinion without threat of neither censorship or control. Those who think alike Mazraoui and al-Ghazi will now stress exactly this point, albeit forgetting that this is not the point. The point is to show an awareness of a conflict that is difficult to grasp – least of all by players whose job it is to entertain several tens of thousands each weekend by playing football. This may sound condescending but it is what these young people have been primed for. They are professional athletes and not paid to explain the world.
No Winners, Just Losers
In this conflict, there can be no winners, only losers. However, there exists the possibility to draw a line. Best to keep your mouth shut if you sense you may get into trouble for whatever you say. This applies to players as well as clubs and their official statements in the wake of what players have said.
Clubs are multicultural entities and are responsible for educating their highest-paid employees accordingly. In return, the club can expect that players do not splutter out unreflected statements without thinking outside their own little environment.
Sometimes it is best to adhere to the old adage
Speech is silver, silence is golden
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