EURO 2024: Rainbows and captain’s armbands: myth of apolitical football

EURO 2024: Rainbows and captain’s armbands: myth of apolitical football
EURO 2024: Rainbows and captain’s armbands: myth of apolitical football

Football and politics are inseparable. But dealing with them remains a balancing act. It has often been difficult for the national team to send the right message at the right time.

Leon Goretzka formed a small heart with his hands as the angry Hungarian block stormed the pitch. It was a relatively small gesture in the politically highly charged European Championship match three years ago in the Munich Arena, where the 2024 European Championship will open on Friday – but it was remembered for a long time. With his goal celebration, Goretzka managed to make a sign that was strong in itself and not elaborately thought out to demonstrate attitude at all costs.

This was preceded by days of debate in the summer of 2021 about the ultimately banned rainbow lighting of the stadium as a protest against a law classified as homophobic in the home country of the Hungarian selection, which is again Germany’s opponent at the European Championships this year. In the middle of it all, the national team was caught between the sporting challenge and demands for grand gestures. A dilemma that repeatedly arose in different forms in the following months, sometimes with captain’s armbands, sometimes with racism surveys.

Football is “always political”

“I hope that politics has learned from this. Namely that it should not interfere in football matters,” UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin told the German Press Agency recently about the rainbow chaos before the 2:2 draw in Munich. The European Football Union justified its ban at the time with the political background of the lighting request. UEFA will “conversely never interfere in political issues” and asks “politicians very modestly not to do so in sport either,” said Ceferin.

Football and politics are no longer separate. In the coming weeks, government representatives will once again be making regular appearances in the stands of the European Championship stadiums. The German national team was recently visited by Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD). Scholz and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán have announced that they will be attending the second preliminary round match against Hungary on June 23, this time in Stuttgart. The DFB team will be wearing their new pink away jersey. The Stuttgart stadium will not be able to light up.

“Of course, football is always political. To deny that would be naive,” wrote the SPD’s co-chairman, Lars Klingbeil, in a guest article for the “watson” portal. But for him, “it’s all a bit too much.” Klingbeil asked: “A few days before the European Championships in our own country, can we take it down a notch and not keep adding more and more mystery to football?”

“One Love” went wrong

At the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the DFB selection was noticeably influenced by the political debate about the “One Love” captain’s armband, which was banned by the world association FIFA. All that remained of the tournament was the elimination in the preliminary round, a documentary about the failure, and the picture of Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser with the captain’s armband in the stands next to FIFA President Gianni Infantino. The Swiss is far more happy to be seen next to political dignitaries, even from less democratic states, than Ceferin.

The German Football Association and DFB President Bernd Neuendorf learned a lesson in Qatar, and now the division of who speaks out on which topics and when seems to be clearer. In the middle of the European Championship preparations, the national players reacted very openly to a controversial WDR survey, according to which a fifth of Germans would prefer it if more white players played in the national team.

“We all know that this problem exists worldwide,” said captain Ilkay Gündogan, who has led the national team since last September, about racist attitudes. “The numbers are not surprising. It will probably continue for the next ten years. Maybe it will get better – hopefully.” The 33-year-old’s view was later partially confirmed by the result of the European elections.

Munich Arena in rainbow colours

The players, the DFB and also the officials of German sport are “clearly showing their stance,” said Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) to “Kicker.” The DFB selection is “a figurehead for the republic that we want to love. (…) They play for Germany, and that is the friendly Germany in pink jerseys. What more could we want? That’s how it should be.”

The Munich Arena will be lit up in rainbow colors, not pink, these days. As a symbol of acceptance and equality for people who do not identify with the traditional role model of men and women or other norms around gender and sexuality, the colors will be visible at the stadium on June 22 and 23. However, the occasion is Christopher Street Day – there will be no European Championship match in Munich on those two days.

Source: Stern

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