Clouds over Germany ⋆ An Old International

Clouds over Germany

While for many the European Championships will be a festival of football, other thoughts need to be considered, too.

Many people will remember the 2006 men’s World Cup held in Germany. It was a tournament accompanied by five weeks of wonderful weather and an atmosphere that surprised hosts and visitors alike. Though the end was not as desired, the tournament is said to have significantly altered the perception of Germans and Germany abroad. Fast forward to 2024 and the start of the men’s European Championship in Germany. The mood ahead of the tournament is one of doom and scepticism – just as it was in 2006. Then the country was in the middle of a significant change of the social system, which left many stranded without a security net. A breath of fresh air though came by having the first female chancellor in German history, Angela Merkel. Her presence at every game of the team helped make football palatable to a wider audience. Again.

In 2024 however, it is not only Germany facing a crisis, the whole continent is. Just days before the tournament was set to kick off, the continent cast their votes at the ballots and gave the right parties a huge percentage of their votes. It has sent shockwaves through Europe with the French president calling a snap election in late June, while the AfD, the right-wing Alternative for Germany has become the second strongest party in the host country. It has confirmed the worst fears: Europe has taken a sharp turn towards the right. Something that was once deemed impossible in Germany and even France, where the results were even worse has happened: racism has taken a central place it seems in the daily lives of millions of people.

The case of Germany is an interesting, intriguing one: more than ever it seems the country is on a mission to find an identity.

This quest became visible in two moments in the spring of this year. The first came in March when the DFB not only announced a new kit manufacturer: Nike, but also presented the new shirt for all national teams. It is a deviation of some sort, for some. The shirt is no longer held in the traditional white or green but it is a cascading mix of pink and violet. This is indeed a break with tradition the DFB has undertaken.

For many, this was a step too far. We need to remind ourselves that this is only the second outfit, the away shirt. The first kit is still white with black shorts. The reactions indicate that the shirt is one of the last bastions for the public to rely upon.

Think Eric Hobsbawm’s dictum of eleven players wearing the same shirt and representing the nation thus. It highlights fears of alienation from the team which originate in the superelevation of football since 2006.

The second instance to look at came in late May, early June in the shape of a documentary. The film looks at diversity in German football. However, the topics of exclusion and racism are way more present than any other topic. And rightly so. The author is confronted with the reality that for some people players of non-white origins are not representative of Germany or the German national team.

Has racism become acceptable by being pushed towards the centre of the debate by the far right? These groups and parties seem to be emboldened to state their views openly and seem to face little resistance or scrutiny from the majority of society.

This feeling of insecurity about identity is amplified by the recent performances of the German national team during major tournaments: in Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022, the team was eliminated after the group stages; it was only a little better in 2021 during the Euros.

Taking football to measure the well-being of a nation has never worked; France in the wake of the 1998 World Cup win is a prime example here. In the 1950s, journalists argued that England was on a downward spiral in the wake of the famous 6-3 defeat at the hand of Hungary at Wembley in November 1953. This focus on football oversaw several English and British successes on and off the sporting field.

By winning the European Championship Germany could further boost the right‘s progress who could use this win for their own nationalistic agenda while by losing the same could happen. It is indeed not a comfortable nor enviable situation for the German national team to be in.

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