Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Chair of Sport Sociology

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Is the German Soccer Team a Model for Integration? Interview with Sebastian Braun

The Wall Street Journal

There is little doubt that the star of Germany’s impressive 2-1 victory over the Netherlands last Wednesday night was Mario Gomez, who scored two goals.  Another star was Jerome Boateng, who threw his body in front of a Dutch player’s shot late in the game.

Does the German team also reflect advances the country has made in terms of integrating foreigners into society?

The question is difficult, says Sebastian Braun, a professor at Berlin’s Humboldt University and an expert on integration and sport.

Mr. Braun recalls the 1998 French football team, which won the World Cup. The team was not only recognized due to its success on the field, but also because there were many ethnic minorities on the team, which allegedly influenced their play.  Then French President Jacques Chirac “never missed a chance to be seen with the victorious team, wanting to be viewed as the father of this successful integration model,” points out the professor.

Mr. Braun adds that following disappointing results in later tournaments, the right-wing populist Front National twisted the integration logic on its head, claiming that the players with immigrant backgrounds didn’t display appropriate loyalty to the country.

Immigration and the integration of foreigners have often been tricky issues in Germany.  About fifty years ago, the country started importing “guest workers” from Turkey, Spain, Italy and northern Africa to meet production needs in the thriving post-war economy.

In short, it was assumed that these “guests” would eventually return to their home countries, but many didn’t, leaving now second and third generations who don’t necessarily fit in to German society.

In more recent times, integration sparks big speeches, such as the one Chancellor Angela Merkel gave in October of 2010. Then, she said that the idea of a multi-cultural society had failed and she spoke of the need for immigrants to learn the German language and integrate into society.

The German team may now represent this type of integration model that Merkel was championing at this speech.  “The German team shows that integration works,” says ING economist and soccer fan Carsten Brzeski.

He adds that the team has adapted German soccer “characteristics” such as hard work, discipline and not complaining too much,  yet has not entirely left heritage or religion at the door. For example, German footballer Mesut Oezil is open about being Muslim and reads the Quran prior to matches.

“Oezil is a Muslim…but it’s not a big deal,” says Mr. Brzeski, himself a German.

Still, as Mr. Braun points out, one has to be careful drawing parallels between success in integration on the field and in society: The 1998 French team, championed as a success in integration, did not have a lasting impact on social progress in France.

In 2002, the Front National advanced to the second round of the presidential election. Three years later, Paris erupted in weeks of destructive ethnic riots.

The Wall Street Journal

Autor: Todd Buell für The Wall Street Journal