German politics and football – They’ve always been mixed together

Keeping politics out of football has become an increasingly popular demand these days. It’s about the beautiful game, the passion for what is happening on the pitch and the individuals who are involved at the different clubs some people will tell you.

And sometimes football might just be that. However, to believe that the football being played in the Bundesliga or elsewhere is going on in a vacuum is simply naive. The political realities of any nation shape also the national footballing culture and that is the way it always has been. And will be.

To ignore that reality is innocence at best, and other times the demand is simply put forward in a desperate effort to silence voices who might further messages that seem to be disagreeable to those who kick and scream, saying that the two matters aren’t linked in any shape or form.

If one thinks that football and politics never have had anything to do with one another, one is simply historically misinformed. One of the German football pioneers and the founder of the German football magazine kicker, Walther Bensemann, regarded football as a means of furthering the understanding among nations and the promotion of tolerance. The ideal put forward by Bensemann clearly leaves room for the promotion of these values within a political context.

German fans have done so over the years, and there have been many examples of fans of different Bundesliga clubs taking political stances when it comes to matters of tolerance and the understanding among nations. The refugee welcome campaign of last season is only one such example. Additionally, at times football fans have even called out politicians they feel have wronged the goal of furthering tolerance and understanding. Bayern Munich’s fans did so when they told off the federal minister of Bavaria Horst Seehofer.

At other times officials have made political statements through the platform that football has given them. At one point Christian Streich decided to speak about his opinions about the Syrian refugees coming to Germany.

Before the match against FSV Frankfurt Streich even had his players vote by absentee ballot, as he talked with his players about the importance of electing democratic parties instead of fear mongering far right-wing elements.

The fact that far right elements now are shooting back, attacking German internationals Jerome Boateng, Mesut Özil and the entire national team as un-German.  Such commentary has certainly caused the German press to go wild over the last few days. The main culprit, Alexander Gauland, went as far as saying that he prefers the World Cup winning teams of 1954 and 1974 in a talkshow broadcasted on German television on Sunday, because they included German names on the team sheet. The 75-year-old went on saying that Boateng “would remain a foreigner for us.”

Before that Gauland had already said that Boateng wasn’t the sort of neighbour most people in Germany would like (which he apologised for on the day the quote was published) and he questioned Mesut Özil’s trip to Mecca, stating that it raises questions regarding whether a person who travels to Mecca is committed to political Islam or the German constitution. Furthermore, the party charter of the Alternative for Germany(AfD) includes the statement that Islam isn’t a natural part of Germany.

The outrage in the German press was more than warranted, as all of these remarks are designed to stir hatred and racism. There’s no doubt that the German constitution grants religious freedom and that both Özil and Boateng are German citizens. To assume anything else is simply offensive and it deserves to be called out for what it is: Racism.

Re-printing these quotes on the Bundesliga fanatic has led to somewhat of debate on social media and in the comment section.

For some people football and politics don’t belong together, but when challenged on that, remarks of a racist nature are often used as a response. One commentator went as far as stating that one couldn’t be sure if Özil was in favour of radical Islam, as he hadn’t distanced himself from that ideology in any comments. Others plainly stated that Boateng shouldn’t be allowed to play for Germany, as he clearly is Ghanian.

The vision that Gauland advocates, an all white national team with German surnames attched, was among the ideals that were re-affirmed by those in favour of his remarks. Players like Özil or Gündogan should play for Turkey, as they simply regarded the German national team to be vehicle for title-winning campaigns according to some of the those in our comment sections and on social media. The patriotism of the players of a migrant background was questioned at length, but the reasons for questioning it were never really provided. At best assumptions were provided, that weren’t really backed up with any facts.

These comments clearly cross the line of spirited political debate and have blown over into a xenophobic sphere that doesn’t belong within the world of football. Nothing could be further removed from the ideals of Walther Bensemann than the ideas furthered by Gauland and those who willingly support them. Political debate depends upon several different sides discussing solutions, but the premise for any debate is the use of actual data and facts.

It has been suggested more than once that the Bundesliga Fanatic keep football and politics separated. That won’t happen. There’s no reason not to cover political remarks about German football on a site about German football. As long as these remarks concern the national team, the Bundesliga or the lower leagues, it’s well within our mission statement to do so.

However, it is well within our rights and our editorial authority to remove racist comments and hate speech from the comment sections of our Facebook page and our homepage.

Finally: If names like Boateng, Khedira, Mustafi and Özil in the German lineup offend you, you might want to do something else than watch the EUROs this summer.

For more on politics and football, check out Travis Timmons’ 2013 interview with Dr. Udo Merkel 

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 33-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.