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Archive for the category : Identities

February 25, 2017

They steal my time!

I am very worried for València CF. 15th in the table of La Liga, with only 23 points, that gives an uncomfortable feeling of foreboding. They won’t go so far as to be relegated to secunda división, will they?

I have to admit, though, that I don’t have any sentiments for this club. Quite the contrary: in my humble opinion, it shouldn’t even exist anymore since it was bailed out with the public money of the autonomous region of Valencia, who kindly paid the bill left by a period of megalomaniac mismanagement. But then there is this charming Spanish colleague, and his boys, and I know very well what it would mean to them to see Valencia CF relegated. As a result, I can’t help it, I’m worried.

Ridiculous.

And this is not the only club whose results I fretfully look up each weekend. How could I possibly remain insensitive to my elder brother’s life-long attachment to FC Cologne, a chaotic club that does not even deserve the amazing dedication of its numerous supporters (crowds of 50,000 when they played in second division…). Well, I’m sincerely happy to see that ‘der effzeh’ is currently enjoying an almost unprecedented stability, clinging to its surprising 7th rank in the Bundesliga table. Reading the report of their latest match (which I did not have the slightest interest in) and thinking of my brother, I am pouring with great satisfaction my Sunday morning breakfast coffee in my favourite mug, the red-and-white one with the ridiculous billy goat, the FC’s emblem.

I don’t give and receive many phone calls with my new Smartphone (a Christmas gift after years of resistance). But it allows me in no time to learn about the latest news from Nottingham Forest FC, a club that annoyed me massively at the end of the 70s when they won their two European Cups. Today, they vegetate in the Championship, sold to a dubious owner from Koweit – well done for them! If only there was not this good friend lost in the Midlands, season-ticket holder of City Ground and fervent promotor of the NFFC supporters’ trust. Not to mention this smart and cultivated ‘Brussels technocrat’ who went so far as to adorn his European blog with a self-made logo that only the initiated are able to identify as a subtle blend of the Atomium and the NFFC crest. Because of these two guys, I surprise myself wondering at the beginning of each season if this years, perhaps, who knows…

I don’t have to worry much for Beşiktaş. Easy to follow, and heading for another title, no doubt this year. Great, I am very pleased and have a fond thought for the gentleman who taught me all I need to know about the big three from Istanbul and why ‘BJK’ really stood out, especially politically. But what is happening to Gençlerbirliği Spor Kulübü? You don’t know this club? Shame on you! It’s understandable though: not exactly a serial champion, five different coaches in 2015-16 only, lost in the football desert of Ankara. Of no interest really. But knowing the affection that some friends have for them, and being aware of the fact that the ‘Stadium of 19 May’ (my birthday!) may be the last place left in the Turkish capital where you can shout things that you better not say out loud elsewhere, … One of them, a humanist intellectual and renowned editorialist, sent me a photo of himself, standing in the terraces under the April rain of 2001, when his beloved red-and-black won the Cup. Surely one of the best days of his life. How could I not check out how Gençlerbirliği are doing? (Let me reassure you: they still have a buffer of six points to the relegation zone).

And this is still not all! What on earth do I care for Torino? If I only think of their ludicrous (albeit original) maroon club colour… And I don’t even care that much anymore for Italian football. But then, remembering the crest as desktop wallpaper of this renowned French historian’s laptop, it becomes an obligation to have a quick look at the no man’s land of Serie A’s table. Boring, but mandatory.

And the worst curse of all is – of course! – PSG. It remains a mystery to me how this club can be followed with as much passion by so many intelligent and kind people who should know better! And now I have this large smile on my face after the 4-0 thrashing of Barcelona, thinking of their unbearable bliss at the sheer quality of the game, and hear myself say ‘Finally!’ Is that me? How low can you get? Is there no limit ?

These people steal my time! They impose on me these warm transnational bonds I am unable to escape. I had not asked for anything, and now they cost me a good half-hour on various screens each and every weekend!

But revenge is sweet. To think that because of me they need to dive into the abysmal depth of the second Bundesliga to find out how stupid old VfB Stuttgart are doing against famous opponents like ‘Sandhausen’ or ‘Heidenheim’… Ha! Take this!

A slightly shorter version in French was published
by Le Monde in its 25 February 2017 edition.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Identities, Public Sphere - No Comment

June 3, 2016

Racism, what racism?

What has become ‘the Benzema affair’ this week is a wonderful triple case study.

Firstly, it’s an illustration of the hyper-sensitivity with regard to ethnic groups that was rather feeble in France for many decades and that has grown significantly over recent years, reaching a new level in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2015.

Secondly, it’s a nice example of the mechanisms of ‘moral panic’ which David Ranc described exactly four years ago, at the beginning of another European championship, involving another French top-player, who happened to be of North African descent, too.

Thirdly, it is a case in point of what our recent UNESCO report ‘Colour? What Colour?’ described as ‘Racism accusations as rhetorical weapon in the media’. Here’s the excerpt concerned (from section 5.4, page 71):

Since racism has been tabooed in mainstream society, accusations of racism have become a rhetorical weapon in public debate. A perfect example of this was provided by the former FIFA president himself in summer 2014. Sepp Blatter responded to different allegations against African members of his organisation by saying:

‘Once again there is a sort of storm against Fifa relating to the Qatar World Cup. Sadly there’s a great deal of discrimination and racism and this hurts me. It really makes me sad.’[1]

Using ‘racism’ against individuals who very clearly have no racist intent is generally counter-productive and results in a devaluation and even trivialisation of the term itself.

In Germany, where for obvious historical reasons the media’s sensitivity to racist and discriminatory discourse is very high, a certain uneasiness is felt with regard to alleged cases of racism that, at close scrutiny, appear artificially construed by specific political groups or social milieus. According to Ingo von Münch, a reputed professor of constitutional law, racism charges have become a doubtful tool in short-term political conflicts. Used for forming hegemonic or ‘monopolistic’ opinions they threaten to undermine a vital principle of liberal democracies.[2]

Allegations of racism are unfortunately also instrumentalised with the aim of damaging the reputations of persons or influencing ordinary power struggles in football organisations. One may cite the case of Oliver Kahn, who was wrongly accused of having insulted Jonathan Akpoborie in a racist manner.[3] Or the case of Johan Cruyff, who in autumn 2011 allegedly had said to Edgar Davids in an Ajax supervisory board meeting: ‘You are sitting here because you are black’. Although Cruyff could credibly explain that the context gave the sentence a totally different meaning than the one reported in the press, the racism charges that ensued were difficult to dissipate.[4]

Rather than reinforcing the legitimate fight against racist and discriminatory attitudes, the hasty denunciation of racist or discriminatory discourse – whether based on sincere convictions or cynical instrumentalisation – that eventually turns out to be biased or plain wrong, may have very regrettable counter-productive side-effects. Media reports on racism and discrimination in football are a  double-edged sword: they may raise awareness, but they may also, dilute the fundamental intention and key message of the fight against racism and discrimination by blurring the lines and weakening the semantic effectiveness and weight of the concepts they use. In other words: by accusing individuals of racism in a non-differentiating manner, they run the risk of damaging the credibility of campaigns and initiatives.

The full report can still be downloaded as PDF here: http://www.essca.fr/EU-Asia/unesco-releases-report-on-racism-and-discrimination/


[1] Owen Gibson, ‘Sepp Blatter launches broadside against the “racist” British media’, The Guardian, 9 June 2014.

[2] Ingo von Münch, Rechtspolitik und Rechtskultur. Kommentare zum Zustand der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Berlin: Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2011, p. 212.

[3] Nils Havemann, Samstags um halb 4. Die Geschichte der Fußballbundesliga. Munich: Siedler, 2013, pp. 470f.

[4] ‘Johan Cruyff desmente comentários racistas’, Diario de Noticias, 22 November 2011. See also Ewan Murry, ‘Johan Cruyff explains alleged racist remark towards Edgar Davids’, The Guardian, 22 November 2011.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Identities - No Comment

February 21, 2016

Brexit questions and Euro2016 scenarios

So we’re set for 23 June. England’s Eurosceptics now have for months to pick apart what David Cameron claims was a successful re-negotiation of Britain’s special status within the European Union.

Getting over with it as quickly as possible is probably the best bet. No one wanted an entire year of aggressive campaigning bound to become hateful over time.

The vote will take place right in the middle of Euro2016. Which raises, of course, various questions of timing: is it wise to schedule a referendum of this importance at a moment when the attention of a large part of the public will be diverted to the state of Rooney’s knee? Does it make sense to mix the expected outpour of identity discourse with the surge of football nationalism that comes with every big international tournament?

Martyn Turner's cartoon for the Irish Times after England lost its quarter final to Portugal (on penalties!) on 24 June.

English history would say it’s rather risky for the man in office. On 18 June 1970 Prime Minister Harold Wilson lost the general elections against all odds. The only possible explanation for this surprise defeat was the surprise defeat of the English team at the World Cup that had occurred only four days earlier, in a quarter final that was played under the scorching Mexico mid-day sun in order to allow Europeans to watch it in early evening. As the reigning world champions, England had been favourites against West Germany, but lost 2-3 in a dramatic extra time dénouement after having led 2-0. Could it be that Thursday’s voters were Sunday’s depressed football fans?

Now that UEFA has in its wisdom blown up the European Championship to 24 participants it is not very likely that English voters will already be in a depressed mood after the first round. Chances are England will have sailed through their three matches against Russia, Slovakia and … Wales (the latter reminding us that the UK is represented at Euro2016 by three different nations, with Northern Ireland playing Ukraine, Germany and Poland, while the Scottish Europhiles are watching from home, having been eliminated by the very same Germans and Poles).

But even if England is in buoyant mood during the Euro, would that mean that nationalist fervour around what is likely to be the youngest team in the tournament would reinforce the ‘Leavers’? Or would the joyful noise from the continent make everybody on the island feel more ‘European’ at the moment of the vote?

And, to look at things the other way round, what would be the impact of a clear British ‘Leave’ vote on the remainder of the tournament? Would England’s quarter final be overshadowed by an emergency summit in Brussels?

The favourite scenario of all Europhobic Englanders would be the Danish one. In 1992 Denmark voted a resounding ‘NO’ against the Maastricht Treaty on 2 June, before winning, only three weeks later, a European Championship they had not even qualified for in the first place.

But, who knows, perhaps the Eurosceptics are heading for their worst-case scenario: the UK chooses to remain in the EU and the Three Lions play a smashing tournament from beginning to end, meeting France in the final in Saint-Denis, winning the Euro in a breath-taking penalty shootout and, just like in Wembley on 17 November, singing the Marseillaise again together with their rivals. The ultimate nightmare!

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Identities - No Comment

December 10, 2015

What would Mr Thackeray say?

‘Vanity Fair, where you light on the strangest contrasts laughable and tearful:
where you may be gentle and pathetic, or savage and cynical with perfect propriety…’

Vanity Fair, Chapter XVII

In the middle of the 19th century, William Makepeace Thackeray published a long serialised novel in the satirical magazine Punch, which he named Vanity Fair. He borrowed his title from John Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), where ‘Vanity Fair’ is one of the stations on the journey of redemption towards the ‘Celestial City’. It may be assumed that W.M. Thackeray chose this title because it not only allowed him to resume his vision of the human condition in a snappy expression but at the same time positioned himself as a detached and sarcastic observer of the human species, made up by individuals frantically running around in their absurd search for self-esteem and pride.

What would he say today on watching an event like the European football championship? Would he see, like in his famous novel, a ‘vain, wicked, foolish place, full of all sorts of humbugs and falsenesses and pretensions’ or would he be inclined to show more leniency in his judgement? Would he point out, with the biting irony that characterised his writing, the excessive proportions of this mega-event ? Would he see nothing but a big bustling fair of stereotypes upheld against better knowledge, a carnival of emotions shamelessly unleashed in public, a festival of the permanently noisy display of imaginary loyalties?

Or would he detect, behind the Babylonian confusion, the joyful celebration of an extraordinary game and the simple pleasure of the masses to find themselves, for once, united by shared passion?

William Makepeace Thackeray never knew modern football. He died at age fifty-two, in December 1863 in London, exactly at the same moment where, at the other end of town, the eleven representatives of pioneering football clubs and schools were about to come to an agreement on the rules of this new game which they had set out to codify a few weeks earlier. If he had attended one of their meetings at the Freemasons’ Tavern in Covent Garden, could he only have imagined what kind of ‘vanity fair’ this new sport would produce one and a half centuries later?

It is perfectly possible, though, that the Victorian novelist, had he been miraculously ‘beamed’ to the Poland of 2012, would not have felt out of place. After all, he certainly was, together with the London society of his times and his famous colleagues Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë or Lewis Carroll, an arduous visitor of the Great Exhibition of 1851, the first ever ‘World Fair’. A genuine mega-event avant la lettre, hosted in the spectacular ‘Crystal Palace’ which received his nickname from the satirical plumes of Punch, where Thackeray had just published his novel. One may therefore assume that the great writer would readily engage in dressing parallels between the ‘Great Exhibition’ of 1851 and the great European football exhibition of 2012. Both can be perceived as great opportunities for the host nations to showcase their achievements and indulge in a good dose of self-celebration – a ‘Vanity Fair’ in the crudest sense of the word. He would no doubt be impressed by the number of travellers converging on the host cities from all over the continent. True, he might be intrigued by the fact that the centre of interest of this huge fair was only a ball game, and a rather simple one at that. But then again, would it not only be logical that the industrial machines and inventions of the 19th century were finally replaced as the object of worship by something even more trivial or ‘vain’? As a matter of fact, it would only strengthen his point about the inherent stupidity of mankind, a vision that left him, in his own words, ‘more melancholy than mirthful’.

It is striking to see to what extent the great literary works of the 19th and early 20th century may provide us with keys for the understanding of contemporary society. If these novels and their characters still have something to say about the society we are living in, it is not only because their authors had outstanding skills of psychological empathy with their protagonists, but also because the psycho-social programming of the human mind, its desires, fears and aspirations, do not seem to have changed that much since the days of Thackeray. Large social groups still have the same hunger for collective pride, which is still mainly satisfied through the identification with nation-states. They still have the same need for the ‘social self-love’ that Emile Durkheim considered inseparable from the very existence of nation-states; they still have the same urge to claim their community’s singularity that Isaiah Berlin identified as one of the most irrepressible drives of modern history.

Our new book on The European Football Championship brings together seven different accounts of visitors to the ‘Vanity Fair of European Football’ that took place in Poland and Ukraine in summer 2012. What they have in common despite their different national origins and their respective focus of interest is the impression of witnessing a period of transition and uncertainty. A period in which feelings of belonging are still framed by the stronghold of national identity, but where loyalties and identifications, but also dominant ideologies, are permanently negotiated and even publicly debated. A moment in time where representations of self and other are increasingly fluid, but where ‘blind spots’ stubbornly persist. A phase in which collective stereotypes, self-perceptions and ‘vanities’ are considerably weakened by large-scale phenomena like migration, cultural globalisation and supranational integration.

The ‘Vanity Fair of European Football’ thus reveals itself as an ideal laboratory for the social scientist, where individuals and groups converge to redefine themselves and interact with each other, where, as Thackeray said, ‘the strangest contrasts laughable and tearful’ are laid out before the eyes of the researcher. It is certainly a place that William Makepeace Thackeray would have very much appreciated visiting. Behind his sarcastic description of the manifold weaknesses and follies of the human species that he examined like a biologist examines insects under his magnifying glass, Thackeray had a great compassion for their vain pursuits. With such interest for detail, capacity for empathy, and sense of humour, he would most certainly have made an excellent football anthropologist.

More on the book here.

An interview with the co-editors here.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Competitions, Identities, Public Sphere - No Comment

November 18, 2015

The many lives of a song

On Saturday, 11 July 1998, I was sitting with my wife in one of the small cafés around the picturesque old port of Honfleur in Normandy, enjoying an afternoon coffee in the sunshine. A young father passed by, pushing the pram with his baby, lost in his thoughts, and quietly humming … la Marseillaise !

We had a large grin on our face. Only two weeks before, this would have been unimaginable. The young gentleman wasn’t probably even realising he was repeating in his head the national anthem one day before the much-awaited final against Brazil in Saint-Denis.

Within one magical week, the national anthem, this hoplelessly outdated 200-year-old ‘war song’, had become the irresistible hit of the summer, like the ‘Macarena’ or the ‘Lambada’ some years earlier.

A few days before I had attended the semi-final against Croatia in the Stade de France and had already been surprised to see people whom I had I known as rather laid-back, almost ‘blasé’, post-national citizens of the new Europe, howl bellicose rhymes about ‘impure blood watering the furrows of our soil’ as if their life depended on it.

One has to admit that the Marseillaise (which paradoxically was written in Strasbourg and got its name from the Parisians) is a musical master-piece. Easy to sing along despite a rather complex melody. The refrain ‘aux armes, citoyens!’ can be shouted at the top of one’s lungs without any risk of sounding false, and the opening line has a kind of eternal Mozartian beauty which even seduced the Beatles.

But that does not change the fact that it’s a war song, with war lyrics. And any kind of glorification of war, even if understandable in its historical context, was felt to be strangely out-of-date with the spirit of the 1970s and 80s. In these years the Marseillaise was cheekily parodied or seriously criticised rather than staunchly defended. Serge Gainsbourg released an ironic reggae version, the singer-songwriter Renaud declared that even in reggae-style it ‘made him want to vomit’, and the brilliant satirist Pierre Desproges regularly used the song’s old-fashioned lyrics for his absurd prose. Michel Platini famously said that over his entire active career, he had never sung the Marseillaise, because ‘this war anthem has nothing to do with the game’. And during the interviews I carried out for my PhD thesis several respondents referred to the Marseillaise as ‘barbaric’ or ‘ridiculous’.

In 1998, however, the Marseillaise was re-appropriated by the French. It was the times of rehabilitation of national symbols. The French were  in need of reassurance, destabilised by globalisation, and at the same time determined not to leave these symbols to the extreme right. Since then, the Marseillaise has become mainstream. At solemn occasions, people even sing it with their hand on their heart, a gesture which to my knowledge has no tradition in France and must have been copied from the Americans. One of the funniest performances ever was the improvised one by the French team two years ago after their stunning 3-0 victory against Ukraine that qualified them for the World Cup.

Some months later, in Brazil, when France played Honduras, the loudspeakers failed and the match was kicked off without the national anthems. Everybody had a laugh. But when I wrote a column in Le Monde the next day, just asking, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, whether we really needed these pre-match anthems, I touched a sensitive chord, at least according to the readers who tracked me down on my personal mailbox in order to let me know what a depraved, élitist cosmopolitan I was.

In its long, tumultuous history, the good old Marseillaise has had many different lives. It was written as a marching song for an army of ‘citoyens’ willing to defend their newly-won freedom in the 1790s; a century later it was a solemn reminder of revanchist duties during the third Republic; it became a slightly grotesque reminder of by-gone times of nationalism in the 1970s; and it was rediscovered as a convenient rallying cry of folklore patriotism at football occasions. Over the centuries, its old-fashioned lyrics had become ever more abstract. Who would have thought that the lines about ‘tyranny’s blood-stained banner’ or ‘those ferocious soldiers who cut the throats of your sons and women’ would come back to haunt the French in such a concrete, literal manner?

Yesterday evening, in Wembley, without any doubt the best possible place on this planet to play a football match after what happened last Friday, the Marseillaise started yet another life, as a transnational anthem for liberty, deploying all its evocative power. An overload of emotion. But a very important foto for the European family album! It will be difficult to hear the Marseillaise at future occasions without thinking of this moment. But perhaps, if we are very lucky, some young father, next June, will hum it innocently while pushing his tram. The day before the France-England final, in Saint-Denis.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : History, Identities, Memory - No Comment

August 23, 2015

Magic, not religion

A guest contribution by Katarzyna Herd, PhD candidate in ethnology at the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences of Lund University.

In the autumn of 2012, when studying Applied Cultural Analysis at Lund University, I was accepted as an intern at Malmö FF. Shortly afterwards I saw my first match live, and that left me with many questions. Simply, I could not make sense of the intense emotional involvement, of the loud singing and flares, of about 16,000 people adorned in white-blue scarves who would voluntarily spend their evening in cold rain screaming abuse at referees and players, and leave frustrated and upset only to return a week later to shout, hop, and suffer more mental torture.

Magic made in Malmö.

As the internship drew to an end, I found myself confused but also addicted to this strange scene. Thus, my MA thesis called Dream Factory: Magic and Myth-Making in Football turned out to be an attempt to understand what football as a socially constructed space is, and what role it has in its local environment. The fieldwork was collected during eight months that I spent in Malmö FF, using ethnographic methods like interviews, go-alongs, observations and focus groups. The material included in the thesis shows how creative, flexible and rich this environment is.

Theoretically, the analysis is based on magic and myth-making. I used the concept of magic as presented by Marcel Mauss in his book The General Theory of Magic (1972). Mauss places magic between religion and technology. He distinguishes magic from religion in that its rites serve technical objectives, unlike religion which carries the notion of the sacred. Magic employs gods and demons, but these are treated as tools, not sacred beings to be worshipped. Magic is also context-based as a magical rite cannot happen just anywhere. That is why some of the behaviour that would be unacceptable in other circumstances appears during matches, as for example aggression, but also men hugging and singing become parts of the rite.

It is clear to me that football, contrary to the common cliché that compares it to a religion, relates to magic. Rather than worship, all different groups involved in football co-create their different rites while performing them. They use each other as means to achieve their objectives. Being ‘magicians’, those involved believe in their powers and they all try to claim ownership over their creations. It is common enough to hear supporters say that they are the club, not the fast-changing players or the management. The reference to magic may also explain how a collective phenomenon can assume individual forms as football offers a plethora of possibilities to get engaged on a personal level.

The local football club supplies its spectators with a possibility to create stories and histories. The relative vulnerability of the football club opens up possibilities for creative struggles and interpretations, and invites spectators to use all possible forms to express themselves, show their views and make the emotional side of football visible.

The depth of football’s history and context makes it into a perfect battleground for myth-making. No matter whether the focus of the different groups involved lies on football skills, financial benefits, making of banners, local patriotism or violence, all are able to tear a bit of the club for themselves and add their own interpretation of what football really means. As the French sociologist Henry Lefebvre wrote, every society needs a space where one can perform an act of rejuvenation, crown a king, and sacrifice a deity. On a match day, at a stadium, you can have that all.

Feel FREE to download the complete master thesis
under https://lup.lub.lu.se/search/publication/3954704 .

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Identities - No Comment

July 5, 2015

How to produce new Catalans

It is not every day that a researcher has the opportunity to be the eye-witness of a nation in the making. Sunday evening 7 June 2015, at the intersection between Avinguda de Sarria and Avinguda Josep Taradellas in the centre of Barcelona, was such a moment. Bumping into a joyful crowd that was waiting for the victory parade of their Champions League heroes in an open-deck bus, we had over two hours to improvise an in-depth session of participant observation. From the reports in the following day’s newspapers, it appears that our ‘field work sample population’ was perfectly representative of the entire city, which for the occasion metamorphosed into a very, very long ‘Fanmeile’.

As is usual nowadays on such Fanmeilen, the patiently waiting crowd was entertained with music from loudspeakers placed at regular intervals along the itinerary of the bus. Next to the DJ, a nice lady was handing out Barça flags to those (a minority) who were not already equipped with garment or objects in the club’s colours, while an equally nice security man was scratching his head somewhat anxiously given the impressive number of persons sitting and standing in the middle of the street.

The crowd had several distinctive features: it was fully trans-generational, encompassing every single age group of the city; it had a striking gender parity within each of these age groups; and it was very visibly ethnically inclusive, with a rather significant percentage of individuals from various migrant origins.

Every now and then the DJ played ‘El Cant del Barça’, the official anthem of FC Barcelona, the lyrics of which are not really on a higher level of poetic sophistication than what can be heard in other stadia, but which seems to be mandatory learning content in primary education, judging from the degree of familiarity shown by the schoolchildren.

The latter were easy to observe since the youngest among them had been placed on the garbage container in order to give them a good view on the bus (as shown by my little photo gallery). They were, of course, excited, and while not all of them were necessarily understanding what exactly was being celebrated, they were certainly all intuitively getting the point that this was an exceptional moment, a kind of cheerful, but solemn ritual allowing individual persons to publicly show their belonging and obedience to a larger social group.

In other words: this was socialisation at work. Right before our eyes, kids from various backgrounds were being turned into little Catalans. For life, probably. The composition of the public, the sheer size of the crowd, and the Catalan flags hanging from every second balcony clearly gave evidence to the fact that the clichéd Barça motto ‘Més que un club’ is not an usurpation. As a matter of fact, this is not a club at all. It’s a national team.

This impression is confirmed when you walk into the Barça museum, where you have to go past a poster that enumerates ‘Catalan Identity. Universality. Social Commitment. Democracy’ as the pillars of the Barça identity.  It sounds like a political platform.

The evening reminded me of two very good book chapters on FC Barcelona. The first one figures in Simon Kuper’s wonderful Football against the Enemy, written in the mid-1990s, at a moment when ‘every day shop signs in Spanish went down and were replaced by Catalan signs’. For Simon Kuper, Catalan nationalism was all about symbolic recognition, not concrete political independance: ‘The Catalans do not want a state of their own, but they want something vaguer than that, symbols to prove they are a separate people’, and Barça is ‘the symbol that this nation needs in lieu of a state’. Certainly not a wrong perception twenty years ago, but it would be difficult to write the same thing today, as it would no longer sound reasonable to qualify Barça as an ‘under-performing’ club.

Ten years later, Franklin Foer also dedicated a chapter to Barça nationalism in How Soccer Explains the World. For him Catalan nationalism is already much more tangible, but it appears to him as an open and inclusive nationalism, like the liberating idea introduced by the French Revolution before it was perverted (mainly by the German romantics) into what then become no doubt the most powerful ideology of the 19th and 20th century.

Foer’s enthusiastic vision of Catalan nationalism is not naive, but it is shortsighted: proto-nationalism that is based on an existing and practiced language and on strong cultural self-awareness, and that may at the same time credibly claim to have undergone a long period of oppression, almost naturally appears as a sympathetic cause. It’s when independence has been reached and a newly existing state is charged with protecting borders, redistributing resources, and defending so-called national interests when things have a tendency to turn nasty.

Producing new Catalans with the help of cultural symbols is not too complicated. Especially if you can use the powerful emotions that football is capable of providing. But maintaining openness, inclusiveness and ethnic diversity in a future independent state will be the real test. A slightly more demanding one than a Champions League final.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Football Politics, Identities - No Comment

November 19, 2014

United Colours of Blond Germany

Football, like education or the corporate world, is a revealing and often contradictory field for the academic study of diversity. The tensions between ethnic communities, cultural norms and linguistic practices were on the agenda of a recent French-German ‘Junior Colloquium’ organised on 6 November 2014 by Jean-Christophe Meyer and Pierre Weiss at the University of Strasbourg, with the support of the CIERA (the Paris-based Interdisciplinary Centre for Studies and Research on Germany).

Given my receding hairline I was invited as ‘senior scholar’ and expected to provide critical and constructive feedback to the PhD candidates who presented their work. And given the quality of the presentations and interest of the research projects, I was very pleased to do so.

An illustration used in one of the presentations struck me particularly. Only a few days after Willy Sagnol’s awkward statements about the different skills of African and ‘Nordic’ players in his team had confirmed that even a former top-class footballer and successful coach who is clearly beyond suspicion when it comes to allegations of racism is prisoner to a rhetoric of racist stereotypes, the paper showed how an entire (and altogether sympathetic) club like Borussia Dortmund markets its children’s fan club in a manner that deserves at least the adjective ‘ethnocentric’.

Multicultural Germany?

As a matter of fact, when promoting membership in the ‘BVB KidsClub’, Borussia addresses only white and blond children. And since four of the five enthusiastic fans portrayed in the advert to the right are girls, it would be difficult to believe that the photo is simply the result of carelessness: it rather suggests that the marketing department has identified a clearly defined target group.

Without indulging into bad jokes about the club’s name – after all, ‘Borussia’ is nothing but a latinised version of ‘Prussia’ – or its colours – perhaps all fans need to dye their hair in yellow now? – this marketing strategy leaves a very bad aftertaste.

There is something profoundly weird about it: the Ruhrgebiet is one of the most multiethnic regions in Germany, and the BVB has regularly brought home-grown talent of different origins to international level. Surely the youth teams of the club don’t apply the same recruitment practices as the KidsClub! And there are few other practices that have been as instrumental as football in making German society understand its multicultural character. The ‘United Colours of Germany’, as France Football renamed the national team in 2010, has earned a lot of sympathy as a much more realistic representation of a multi-ethnic society than its predecessors.

The fact that the KidsClubs seems light years away from reality reminded me of a video clip that was used around 1997 or 1998 in the German bid for hosting the 2006 World Cup. The clip, which showed Franz Beckenbauer playing with a handful of ten-year-olds, gave testimony to the producers’ careful effort to include several ‘visible minorities’ among the children. I remember that given the German citizenship law at the time I showed the document to a group of international students calling it ‘hypocritical’, since none of the kids in the video would actually have the chance to play for Germany in 2010 or 2014, when they would be in their mid-twenties.

Though I was right at the time, football history has now told me that things can change. So much for the good news. The bad news is that, as Sagnol’s discourse and Borussia’s marketing remind us, it is easier to change the laws than to modify deeply engrained patterns of thought.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Identities, Posts - No Comment

July 2, 2014

Football: It’s Time to Check the Privilege!

Part 2 by Nina Szogs

FIFA, by refraining from punishing Mexican fans for using homophobic chants during the World Cup match against Cameroon – despite claiming to have a zero-tolerance policy, missed an important moment to take action against discrimination in football.

“Football fans against homophobia” (Source: http://fussballfansgegenhomophobie.blogsport.de/)

“Football fans against homophobia”

Discussing the lack of awareness

In 2006, Pilz et al., for the German Bundesliga, argued that whereas racism has to some extent become part of a critical discourse in football stadia, homophobic and also sexist chants are often perceived as a legitimate part of football fan culture. Today, during the World Cup, we can observe that homophobia, similar to racism and sexism, is still an immense problem on and off the pitch. Not only have Mexican fans been accused of homophobic chants, but also Russian and Croatian fans were seen displaying racist and homophobic banners. Missing the chance to publicly condemn these discriminating practices during an international tournament like the World Cup, and make people worldwide aware of them, is one of FIFA’s great failures.

Post by : Nina Szogs in the category : Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

June 30, 2014

Football: It’s Time to Check the Privilege!

Part 1 by Alexandra Schwell

Football’s Dark Side: Corruption, Homophobia, Violence and Racism in the Beautiful Game” – this is the title of a new book written by Ellis Cashmore and Jamie Cleland. The authors contend that “Football may yet be the last major sport to boast that it harbours no prejudices”. However, they say, it “stands to reason that in a sport played by about 200,000 professionals, only a few have declared themselves to be gay”. Hence they conclude: “It can be reasonably assumed that football is a prohibitive environment for gay people”.

To be clear, Cashmore and Cleland are not accusing football of being an extraordinary homophobic, racist, or violent sport when compared to other sports, such as boxing. If we share the view that the social forces and power that create the distribution of economic, cultural, and social capital, and thus opportunities within society, come to the fore and are negotiated in football, then we should take a look at how this wider society links to the activity around and on the football pitch.

Let us take a random, but rather recent, example: In November 2013 a teacher in Baden-Württemberg, Germany launched an online petition and attempted to obtain enough signatures to oppose the ministry of education’s 2015 state curriculum. The new and highly contested curriculum includes a controversial section, which requires that the schools are expected to advance their pupils’ understanding of “gender diversity” across all disciplines.

Post by : Nina Szogs in the category : Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

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