Racist insults remain part of everyday life in German football stadiums. Expressing one’s emotions on the terraces is a good thing, but you should choose your vocabulary carefully, writes DW’s Andreas Sten-Ziemons.Monkey sounds roar from the stands, dark-skinned players are called damned n******. The referee is reviled for dubious decisions as a damned gypsy, opposing fans denounced as “Jews.” Despite the fact that every football team these days includes foreign players of various origins, ethnicities and religions, and there are plenty of dark-skinned players with foreign origins on the national team, German football still has a problem.
The kind of insults directed towards the field of play or at opposing supporters on any matchday is often not only below the belt, but also bereft of common sense. Much of it is disrespectful, thoughtless, uncouth and hurtful. One can only imagine how the subjects of such insults feel – not so much the opposing players, fans or officials, because in many cases they aren’t even aware of them in the first place. However, dark-skinned fans, those of the Jewish faith – or any origin that doesn’t happen to be German are often seated within earshot of such insults.
The Bundesliga a fitting platform for more reasons than one
Last weekend the 36 clubs in Germany’s two top leagues launched a campaign against discrimination, exclusion and racism using the slogan “Cross out prejudice.” This is the third time they have done so, after similar campaigns in 2012 and 2015.
“The Bundesliga is a fitting platform for this because it serves as a common reference point for more people than ever – regardless of age, gender, income, skin color or religion,” said Christian Seifert, the managing director of the DFL, which operates Germany’s top two professional leagues. This may be true, but the Bundesliga is also a fitting platform due to incidents of discrimination, exclusion and racism that continue to occur in and around its stadiums.
It’s a good thing that the league has launched this initiative, but it’s a shame that it should even have to. And it remains to be seen whether it will actually get through to those who really need to change their behavior. It’s probably pretty hard to reform anyone who is deeply racist by conviction. It’s wishful thinking to expect a few posters, commercials or logos on jerseys or T-shirts to convince them to change their ways. But perhaps there is a chance that the campaign will make some of them actually think about their words – because the overwhelming majority of them probably act as they do “only” out of stupidity or ignorance. And recognizing the error of one’s ways is always an important first step to change.
On the other hand, anyone who is openly racist, and who disparages and marginalizes other people simply due to the color of their skin, origin or religion, should be marginalized him or herself – and banned from all German football stadiums.
Emotions are a big part of what football is all about and they should be expressed openly by every fan. But the fans should reflect upon the words that come out of their mouths – as well as the affect they might have on others. Today is the United Nations-designated International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It would be as good a day as any to start that change.
After all, the German, the English and probably scoreless other languages are plenty rich enough in their vocabularies to allow a fan to put down his or her adversaries in a creative, maybe even humorous manner, without resorting to the kind of insults that have no place in society, let alone a football stadium.