A Photo and Its "Sounding-Board"
In spring 2018, a PR meeting between three German-Turkish professional footballers and Turkish president Erdoğan triggered a debate on racism in German society. A book examines the history and aftermath of this PR encounter - and seeks to explain the failure of the German national team at the World Cup in Russia.
By Holger Moos
On 13 May 2018, three German-born professional footballers with Turkish roots - İlkay Gündoğan, Cenk Tosun and Mesut Özil - met the autocratic Turkish president Erdoğan and posed together with him for the media. In June, Özil and Gündoğan were eliminated with the German national team in the preliminary round of the World Cup in Russia. On 22 July, Özil announced his resignation from the national team and made massive accusations against the German Football Association (DFB), in particular the DFB President Reinhard Grindel, whom he accused of a "racist, discriminatory prehistory".
With his current title Der Fall Özil. Über ein Foto, Rassismus und das deutsche WM-Aus (i.e. The Özil case, on a photo, racism and the German World Cup loss), Dietrich Schulze-Marmeling, acclaimed author of a number of books on football, has presented an initial analysis. At the same time he shows that racism is not exactly unknown in German football. And he looks back on the first players with migration backgrounds in the Bundesliga and the national team.
The DFB teams became more colourfulIt all began in 1974 with the debut of Erwin Kostedde, the first dark-skinned German national team player. The participation of players with a migration background in the German national team picked up at the latest after the Germans had been eliminated in the preliminary round of the 2004 European Championships. France had already demonstrated in 1998 how successful a multicultural team can be. The DFB also had to promote the integration of immigrant children into its teams. Ottmar Hitzfeld, then coach of Bayern Munich, put it this way: "We also have to win over our foreign children to German football. [...]Take a look at our young teams today: 50 percent of them are foreign children. So we’ll forgo half of our potential if it’s impossible from the outset to let them play for Germany".
So the DFB teams became more colourful and were intended to be the antithesis to parties like the AfD. Nevertheless, many German Turks in particular continued to opt for the Turkish national team - in contrast to Mesut Özil, who played for the German national team and was strongly criticised by Turkish fans. In Germany, however, he received the Integration Bambi in 2010 and was visited in the same year by Chancellor Merkel after a European Championship qualifying match against Turkey, of all countries - as a much-discussed photo attests.
Subliminal racismDas Foto von Özil und Gündogan mit Erdoğan im Mai 2018 löste eine viel heftigere Debatte aus. So forderte etwa DFB-Präsident Reinhard Grindel nach der WM-Pleite Özil auf, sich öffentlich zu diesem Treffen mit Erdoğan zu äußern. The photo of Özil and Gündogan with Erdoğan in May 2018 triggered a much fiercer debate. After the World Cup failure, for instance, DFB President Reinhard Grindel called on Özil to comment publicly on this meeting with Erdoğan .
Grindel justified this somewhat awkwardly with a "changed sounding-board for the topic of integration", and in this way exploited the racist and right-wing populist mood in the country to exert pressure on Özil. At the same time, critics once again made Özil the failure's chief culprit. Özil's team colleague Jérôme Boateng aptly summed up this pattern of behaviour as follows: "If things go well, we're Germans. If things go badly, we're foreigners."
"A not-insignificant number of Germans has never accepted Germans of Turkish origin as fellow citizens and part of the German people," writes Schulze-Marmeling. And this subliminal racism was brought to light by the photograph of the Turkish president, which in any case was surely deserving of criticism.
"Sometimes less democracy is better for planning a World Cup"In his book Schulze-Marmeling also points to a structural problem of professional football and its clubs and associations: the proximity to autocrats and dictatorships and the corruption often associated with it. As long as the benefit that results from this proximity is greater than the (image) damage, many will look the other way. Just think of this year's World Cup host Russia with its controversial president Putin or the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to the emirate of Qatar, which is regarded as authoritarian. For FIFA, such states are "part of the family". In 2013, then-FIFA General Secretary Jérôme Valcke put the matter bluntly: "This may sound crazy now, but sometimes less democracy is better when planning a World Cup".
Schulze-Marmeling also writes that international football stars can scarcely avoid photos of controversial politicians or corrupt businessmen in the course of their careers. German honorary captain Lothar Matthäus, for example, not only had himself photographed with Putin without much media outcry, but in 2011 also took part in a propagandistic match to which Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov had invited him - Kadyrov is charged with crimes such as kidnapping, manslaughter and torture. Even football officials let themselves be depicted again and again with autocrats and tyrants. In such an environment, requiring individual players such as Özil or Gündogan to behave in an exemplary manner and have a properly aligned moral compass is a sign of ripe hypocrisy.
"Successful integration increases the potential for conflict"But perhaps the debate that Özil has sparked can be viewed positively - in the sense of integration researcher Aladin El-Mafaalani, who in his new book Das Integrationsparadox interprets conflicts as evidence of successful integration. Such conflicts today no longer remain latent as they used to be, but are carried out openly: "Successful integration therefore increases the potential for conflict". And he states in a Deutschlandfunk interview: "If people are well-integrated, they no longer do what they are told". In other words, they have matured and are defending themselves against admonitions from those who see themselves as the social majority. Perhaps this explains why Özil did not apologise for the Erdogan photo.
Schulze-Marmeling, Dietrich: Der Fall Özil. Über ein Foto, Rassismus und das deutsche WM-Aus
Göttingen: Verlag Die Werkstatt, 2018. 192 S.
You can also find this title in our Onleihe
El-Mafaalani, Aladin: Das Integrationsparadox. Warum gelungene Integration zu mehr Konflikten führt
Köln: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2018. 240 S.