German football stands against racism and for refugees

Germany and Europe are currently experiencing an influx of refugees from war torn countries seeking help and asylum. The last few days have been dominated by Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban’s strict stances on immigration from war torn countries. “It’s a German problem,” says the 53-year-old man who describes himself as being in favour of illiberal democracies such Turkey and Russia.

Hungary’s rotten treatment of those who are looking for help, the fact that several people in desperate situations are dying whilst trying to make it to Europe, has caused a lot of public discussion in most European countries. Storing refugees like cattle at Keleti station has been Orban’s solution so far, but the fact of the matter remains that these people need help and that Europe as a whole is going to be forced to react.

Refugees Welcome

Football in itself is not going to solve the problem. However, it can be an important factor in many ways. Kicker founder Walther Bensemann described football as a sport that could further peace in our time. The way German fans and clubs have reacted to current events has shown just how important football can be. Fans from all around the Bundesliga and the lower leagues have shown their support for helping refugees. On match day three in the Bundesliga, signs reading out “Refugees Welcome” were spotted in every ground. Compare that to the 90s when chants of “Asylum seekers! Asylum seekers!” were yelled across German stadiums as insults, and you’ll see how much the atmosphere and the attitude has changed over a short span of time.

The clubs themselves have gotten involved as well. Most prominently Bayer München, who have decided to found a football school for Syrian refugee kids at a cost of 1 million Euros. Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told the press:”FC Bayern sees it as its social responsibility to help those fleeing and suffering children, women, and men, to support them and accompany them in Germany.”

Bayern’s first team players are going to be accompanied by refugee children onto the pitch at the team’s next home match against FC Augsburg. Furthermore, the club is also planning a friendly to raise a further 1 million Euros for refugees from war-torn countries.

Bayern are far from the only team trying to shed light on the issue. Borussia Dortmund invited 220 refugees to their match against Odd Grenland. The club’s test match against FC St. Pauli in Hamburg is going to see 1,000 refugees in the attendance. Furthermore, the players are going to walk onto the pitch with refugee children right next to them.

Other notable projects include Werder Bremen’s project “Bleib am Ball” (stay on the ball). The Green-and-Whites are offering kids free football training sessions in five different parts of Bremen. Furthermore, the club has also holiday activities planned for the refugees, in addition to giving away free tickets to asylum seekers.

Bayer Leverkusen have started the project “Bayer macht Schule” (Bayer does school), which allows refugee kids to accompany the footballers onto the pitch at Bayer matches in addition to providing these kids with football training sessions and German-language classes.

HSV are currently allowing the city of Hamburg to use their parking lot as a tenting area that serves as preliminary housing for the 1,300 refugees who have arrived. Keeper Rene Adler and St. Pauli’s Lasse Sobiech spent a night in the area, talking to refugees and making some music with them.

Speaking up against racism

It’s not only the Bundesliga who is willing to help and embrace refugees coming to Germany. A poll released by the German broadcaster ARD showed that the vast majority of Germans are either for keeping the level of immigration to the country at the same level or embracing it. Last week the city of Munich made headlines when Syrian refugees were greeted with applause from the public who had gathered to welcome them at the train station.

However, not all of Germany is onboard with the same message. Only 4 days ago, a home for asylum seekers in Hamburg was set on fire. Members of far-right organisations have been vocal in their protests in several places all around Germany. It’s a well-kept secret why they do possess any insight into geo-political issues or immigration policy and despite their very vocal protests they are yet to reveal it.

Schalke reacted to the ongoing debate about refugees arriving in Germany, showing a clear-cut position against racism in any shape or form. The club have allowed their fans to donate clothing items and other goods in addition to shooting a video, which went viral on YouTube. Former player Gerald Asamoah shared the club’s point of view, delivering a powerful message.

In the video Asamoah says:

You get insulted, you get booed. But still, you’ll walk into the dressing room, get into your car and then you are gone. Afterwards you’ll be surrounded by people who accept you.

But, those people who are living in a home for refugees, they can be surrounded by 1,000 people, and those people are out there to get them. For me this happened during the course of 90 minutes, for them it’s almost every day.

I don’t want to convert anybody. Everybody can keep their opinion. But, if you are saying that you are a human being, I’d ask you to look to your heart and ask yourself: Is what I’m thinking right, are my actions right?

We are attacking people who have nothing, who are looking for help. Everybody can sit down and think about that and I ask people to do so. To sit down and ask: Why are we doing that? And if everybody does so, and shows civil courage by stating that this isn’t the way to go about things, we can reach far. We have to stand up, because otherwise we won’t get there. We have to set a sign.

Two years earlier, Asamoah expressed in an interview that he was saddened that he still had to talk about racism, because it meant that it was still there. As a player Asamoah had experienced racism at several football grounds in Germany. When Hannover played against Energie Cottbus in a relegation playoff to get to the Bundesliga 2 back in 1997, both Asamoah and his teammate Otto Addo were viciously attacked by thrown bananas and monkey cries from the audience in Cottbus. Nine years later the same thing happened again when Schalke played an away match in the cup against Hansa Rostock. Back then, Asamoah had returned to the Bundesliga having competed in the 2006 World Cup being the first African born player who had made it to the German national team.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 32-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.