This will be incredibly controversial, very personal and very difficult (guess what? I don’t care) but it’s a topic that has to be discussed after the controversy and discussion it has caused over the past few days.
They say sport and politics should not be mixed… but “they” are and have been wrong for years, the two cannot be separated and haven’t been for a long time, it’s just that it’s always happened under the radar.
Every racial attack on a footballer, every racist and sexist chant you hear in a stadium, every banner, every opinion within the world of football is political in some aspect, like it or not. The term “banter” is often misused as an excuse for such behavior.
FC St Pauli are notoriously one of the most left wing political clubs in Europe and yet no one has batted an eyelid at their pride about it… so why does this action from Hertha now make a difference? Because the controversy began over seas? If you’re offended by the message a football club drew attention to, a message of unity and tolerance, perhaps you should read on, and then take a good long look at the world.
But what am I actually going on about?… well.
Where did it start?: The big stage
Where did this #TakeAKnee controversy begin?
It started not so long ago across the Atlantic at San Francisco, when NFL team the San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel during the National Anthem of the United States prior to the game.
It drew huge attention from the media as well as controversy and an outpouring of both rage and support from across America. When Kaepernick was questioned over his actions he stated that he felt he could not stand for an anthem that he felt represented oppression, that certain communities in the US were being marginalised and that he was making a stand against that mistreatment of people across the country based on their race and ethnicity.
It is not secret nor is it an issue that is new in the US, for race based crimes and attacks to exist. Police brutality, racist comments and slurs and intolerance have all spiked over the past few years not only in the States but across the world, both here in Europe and even in Germany.
Several people followed Kaepernick’s example by kneeling during the national anthem. This included the teams of the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars kneeling in London for the NFL game played at Wembley, with the two sets of players then standing for the English anthem “God Save the Queen”.
The interference of President Donald Trump hasn’t helped matters either. The President of the United States claimed anyone protesting in such a manner should be fired, that is disrespects the countries flag yada yada yada and across America people began publicly boycotting the NFL. But in general the US remained divided. Some claimed it disrespected the flag, others stated that it is within the US constitution that Americans have the right to protest when they feel they’ve seen injustice and hate… I happen to agree with the latter.
But Hertha BSC’s decision to kneel in solidarity with those making the move in the NFL, was seemingly and purposefully misinterpreted by many whilst applauded by many others. Do Sport and politics mix?
Yes they do, because they always have. Like the NFL, football is a platform in which the world can see you, finally their attention is drawn to important issues that others were too ignorant or afraid to talk about before. They say it won’t make a difference but guess what? You’re all looking and talking about the matter now aren’t you?
But the gesture was also, whilst linked to the NFL players protest, for a different reason entirely. The world now sees what Hertha BSC stands for, after they made it clear the kneeling gesture was in support of a tolerant world and an open Berlin. With the German elections having just passed as well, it was a message that was very much needed.
Some claim it was a publicity stunt by the club. But what positive impact would this gesture give the club when such a thing was controversial and would possibly create more enemies than new friends? What commercial attention or positives would such a moment bring? Simple answer is that it doesn’t. In fact it would probably deter rather than attract. A publicity stunt? I don’t believe so.
When it becomes personal
I make it no secret that I probably love Germany and Berlin more than the country and town I was born and grew up in. Whilst I won’t say I’m not proud to be British I have absolutely not desire to be overly patriotic about it either.
Whilst I have not seen the injustice and the hatred some of those in the US and other countries have seen, I have experienced some abuse that shows exactly the reason someone has to take a stand against intolerance.
My family is not entirely British. In fact my Grandfather fought the Nazis during WWII as part of the partisan movement across Yugoslavia, he was targeted by the fascist regime there because he was a “Slav” and considered subhuman.
Fortunately he survived then escaped the concentration camp system to flee to England…he stayed here. But with him came his name, which obviously was eventually passed down to me and it made me the easiest target for abuse and xenophobic attacks whilst growing up.
Being made to feel you don’t belong in the country you were born and raised in is quite possibly the most awful sinking and isolating feeling there is. To be referred to as a “Slav” or a “filthy immigrant”, to have threats from people you’ve never spoken ill of or to that they’re going to ensure the immigration service arrests your family, or, like my sister, to be told by the Job Centre that they suggest you change your surname in order to get better job offers. To be told if you’re not happy to “f**k of back to where you came from” to the point you’re tempted to just leave anyway…it contributes to general racism… and it’s not just me.
In the wake of the Brexit vote for the UK to leave the EU the abuse towards Eastern Europeans spiked massively. My former flatmate told me the day after the vote she and a friend had been out when someone heard their accents and shouted “Brexit! Brexit! Go home!” in their faces in the middle of the street. This isn’t an isolated case either, hundreds reported similar issues post Brexit.
Originating from what is now Bosnia, at the time part of Yugoslavia when my grandfather left the country, the attack on Eastern Europeans and immigrants was incredibly frightening to witness. Eventually those of us that do have their roots in the Eastern European countries just became impartial to it, but the question is ‘Why should we have to?’, why should that sort of abuse be acceptable?
It had gotten to the point where I no longer felt accepted in my own country. At every corner there was some sort of abuse or level of judgement or intolerance, it was like there was a target painted on my back. “Look at me! I’m different! Come and get me!” There was no pride in having family from abroad, the years over intolerance had just shamed us instead.
And then comes Berlin and Hertha.
Berlin was city I briefly visited in 2013 to attend a concert. The visit was so brief I didn’t even have the opportunity to see the city centre but the people I’d met there were so incredibly hospitable that there was always a desire to go back.
And it just so happened the return was made during the 2014 world cup, the perfect time to visit as every single German was in full high spirits watching their nation’s football team show the world what the game was about… teamwork, hard work and determination.
This was the first time I’d ever ventured out into the world completely alone. One would naturally be a little scared, apprehensive about how they’re going to perceived. My worries were unfounded. Berliners were kind, helpful, direct as Germans are notoriously are for but not one was there sense of threat or discomfort. In fact, whilst some locals were curious as to where this strange name and background (because I certainly don’t look ‘typically English’) originated from the curiosity was genuine, not malicious. The arms were open, the city was incredibly multicultural and felt as though it wanted to embrace everything and everyone that was different. I felt like one of the family immediately.
And the same could be said for Hertha BSC.
The attraction of Hertha was not the success or glory. Hertha had none of that. The club wasn’t flashy nor did it have a trophy cabinet the size of the state (Not like Bayern Munich). There was glory in supporting a club that had nothing glorious to relish in. Instead, it was fans and the system and the city that it represents. I began watching and supporting Hertha because I was tired of the system of football in the UK aka the cash and the greed. The atmosphere over here is almost dead, the fans are boring because if they express themselves vocally they’d looked down upon and the fan culture is now almost non existent.
The attraction of supporting a German club like Hertha was that even when the club was down or struggling or not playing well, the fans would always be proud of their city and support their club, the club colours and the players. You lose 5-0? It hurts of course it does but the passion of the fans for their club and city remained regardless. And then there is the way the majority welcomed supporters from beyond the boarders.
Of course you’re going to find tiny minorities of ‘fans’ that can’t stand anyone from outside of Brandenburg wearing blue and white. But they ARE minorities. Anyone who claims Hertha ‘glory supporters’ exist must be on something…because there’s nothing glorious about Hertha to support them for. We’re not a huge success, therefore we don’t have the credentials to attract plastic fans. And besides we wouldn’t want them.
But the vast majority took fans from other countries under their wing without hesitation. In fact, I’ve probably got more friends in Berlin now than at home. Instead the Berliners are genuinely curious about our reasons to support the club, and enjoy the passion and joy their beloved Hertha brings to other people from beyond the boarders of Germany and most of us found our way to Hertha of our own accord, we didn’t need some promotion or glory day success to bring them to our attention. And we made friends along the way.
It was actually my dad’s suggestion to look into Hertha. He knew I loved Berlin and that I’d been a fan of football whilst growing up, we used to attend games together at the local team and watching Match of the Day on a Saturday night was something we did together. He knew of Hertha, he pointed them out to me… I owe him one.
When I attended my first match at the Olympiastadion alone those strangers felt like a family… when I began to meet other fans slowly they WERE family. I’ve been looked after countless times by Berliners, I’ve been cared about when I’ve need help and advice by people, who’ve all clearly stated their stance of tolerance and open minds. I’d be lost without them. But this is genuinely and general attitude of Hertha fans. The idea of acceptance of people from all over the world. Many of them grew up in a city that was divided and it’s not something they wish to see again.
Germany leads the way in Europe for tolerance. Hertha were just the first club to publicly state their stance on it.
A few matters: What really happened at the Olympiastadion
Whilst the club statement suggested that the gesture was to stand with the players in the NFL the genuine reasoning for what took place in Berlin against Schalke was more significant to the city. Some people are forgetting Berlin was a divided city until the early 1990’s, that unity and the coming together of East and West was finally the moment after WWII that the country and the city felt whole.
What occurred was the entire starting 11, Subs and training staff all taking a knee prior to kick off and as the announcer and social media teams all stated later, it was to show solidarity against hatred, intolerance and oppression. To promote tolerance, peace and togetherness both in Berlin and across the world and as you’ll see later the reasoning may well be well founded.
There are several rumours around the internet (Oh the wonderful world of internet so it must be true!) that are entirely false.
- “The players kneeling during the national anthem”
False. In Germany and every other major footballing city across Europe no national anthem, the nation of the league nor any other National Anthem, is either played or performed before the match begins. The only exception (Other than international matches) in Germany is the DFB Pokal Finale (The DFB Cup Final) where the German nation anthem is played, however the majority of players don’t sing it because they aren’t German. Bundesliga teams are inclusive of players from all over the world. The only anthem to actually be played prior to the kick off between Hertha BSC and Schalke 04 was the clubs own anthem “Nur Nach Hause” which traditionally the fans sing in unison, and on this day they did so whilst they applauded the action of the players upon hearing the reasoning for the kneel.
- “How amazing! White players kneeling for something they know nothing about. How are any of these millionaires suppose to understand oppression?”
How ignorant can you be that you don’t even consider the personal history of these players. For anyone’s information Hertha’s team includes several players of African descent with striker Salomon Kalou being from the Ivory Coast, Jordan Torunarigha being part Nigerian as well as players like Karim Rekik having Tunisian roots. Davie Selke, Jordan Torunarigha as well as Kalou and Rekik are not white. Genki Haraguchi is Japanese and captain Vedad Ibisevic is a Bosnian Muslim. Several others are from eastern Europe. This is an incredibly multicultural team with only three of the starting 11 on Saturday actually being German. Most footballers do not start off as millionaires and a number of the Hertha squad have faced oppression at some point in their lives. Black players in general in some countries are still hounded by monkey noises whilst playing for example. It still happens. Perhaps the most significant story is that Ibisevic is a Bosnian Muslim that escaped persecution in Bosnia during the Bosnian war, avoided being murdered by Serb nationalists and escaped eventually to America where he would’ve been considered a political refugee. Today, under the same circumstances he may well have been rejected asylum and forced to flee elsewhere. Yet in Germany Ibisevic is welcome, and loved by the Hertha fans. His religion and his ethnicity are insignificant, from a boy who grew up with virtually nothing.
- “This disrespects a flag/anthem ect and you shouldn’t get involved in politics”
Sorry to burst your bubble but the world is already involved and Germany football has been involved in politics for ages without anyone even noticing. St Pauli is a club notoriously based on their left wing politics of tolerance and anti racism but the world seemingly applauds them for doing do. Likewise Lokomtive Leipzig and Hamburg SV are known for their right wing stance. Again no one bats and eyelid so why is it only when one club makes a gesture they’d grabbed by the throats by people that don’t agree with them? Since no anthem or flag was present during or before the match the argument is void. There is quite literally nothing to disrespect.
- “It was a political PR stunt for commercialisation”
Making such a controversial move is certainly not going to do wonders for any kind of PR, in fact I can guarantee you that the vast majority of commercial companies will try and get a million miles away from us. The Bundesliga would’ve also had to approve this gesture before it was agreed upon. It was not considered a political one because the message that was put across was in fact positive.
“We stand for tolerance, justice and unity in Berlin” which isn’t the message getting through, mostly because those that see the gesture as offensive don’t want to accept the reasoning behind it and kid themselves that the world is all hunky dory and that there isn’t a problem with inequality through their rose tinted glasses and ability to ignore what is right in front of them. The ability to blame everything but themselves. The motto of Germany as sung in the current national anthem is “Unity, justice and freedom for the German fatherland”. A message that cannot be anything other than positive. You tell me how taking a knee, to stir up controversy is going to be at all commercially viable? There’s a chance it’s lost us more fans than gained. There’s absolutely no way this was a stunt for commercial gain.
Tiny steps: There is still an problem in Berlin
The idea of the #TakeAKnee was not to change the world but to draw attention to some of injustice in it as well as the levels of hate that do still exist even in places like Berlin.
Last season, the far right wing political party the “AfD” or Alternative Fur Deutschland, which unfortunately was rather successful during the 2017 elections, caused a huge problem when their Berlin representative was photographed with Hertha player Marvin Plattenhardt. The problem was, at the time it was taken, Plattenhardt hadn’t a clue who the person was and assumed it was a fan of the club like any other. When the picture appeared on the AfD’s social media claiming Plattenhardt was their supporter, the club took action and Plattenhardt himself threatened the party demanding they delete the photo, claiming he had no idea who they were and wanted to make clear he had no political affiliation to them whatsoever. When the AfD failed to remove the picture the club imposed an injunction against the party instead. Plattenhardt was one of the players that took a knee against Schalke.
And unfortunately the intolerant far right doesn’t stop there even in a city of tolerance like Berlin.
The day after Herthas’s dramatic 2-2 comback draw at home to Bayern Munich, myself and a good friend and Berlin native took a nightly walk around Alexanderplatz. When we heard traditional German folk music playing he thought it was normal as the following day was “Einheit” the anniversary of German unity. We assumed it was a celebration, as the festival of lights was also fast approaching that week… but it wasn’t.
In the corner of the square were a large number of police blocking off the public from what looked like a mob carrying flags… but one of the flags contained the colours of pre WWII Germany along with an Iron Cross (As Swastika’s are banned in Germany). It turned out that Pegida had turned up. For anyone who doesn’t know they are an anti immigrant, anti Islamic hate group notorious for their Neo Nazi links and ideas and are definitely not wanted in Berlin. In fact Berlin is one of the cities they are least popular, having gained attention more in the former East German cities of Leipzig and Dresden.
There was a small counter protest too, but whoever had the microphone was was shouting in such a manner that anyone could mistake him for Hitler. I could only just make out what he was speaking about, I heard the AfD mentioned, but I was too angry to really be listening. My friend however, was listening and the look on his face said it all. He wanted to get away from there as fast as possible. It was too upsetting for him to witness. His words were something along the lines of
“This makes me want to cry because that is not Berlin. That is not my city. What he was saying was disgusting, I cannot even repeat it”.
People think racism is no longer an issue in Europe is wrong. We’re seeing it every day, in small ways and big. Whilst they have the freedom to say whatever they like there is a difference between freedom of speech and hate speech and the line was drawn here.
Where do I stand with the kneel?
Ever since the protests began in the US my understanding has always been that if the players feel they are not listened to, feel there is injustice they want to being attention to, then they have every right to do what they want and what they feel is right.
If I was forced to stand for an anthem I do not believe in I would consider that a dictatorship and a horrendous trample all over my human rights.
And the 1st amendment of the United States clearly states that freedom of speech has to be acceptable and that includes the right to protest and the freedom of action and beliefs. Even if to me those beliefs such as far right extremism are abhorrent, disgusting and morally wrong, I cannot prevent those that believe such things from believing as they do. What was the phrase? ” I do not agree with what you say but I will not question your right to say it”… which means I can respond however I like too.
Whilst I understand the controversy, I have never believed it disrespects those that fought wars. The flag and anthem are suppose to represent freedom too… that includes the freedom to protest. And the right wings knickers are getting in a right twist about it. Without that freedom of protest in fact, there’d never have been an allied force to fight back during any war. You see something you believe is wrong? stand up and fight for what you believe in.
Do I believe Hertha’s own stance was noble?
Yes of course. Their message was quite clear. It wasn’t identical to that of the NFL players who knelt in protest but the message was simple. We want a tolerant and open Berlin. We don’t want that to change. Everyone is welcome here and racism in the game as well the world still exists. Berlin and Hertha BSC made me feel welcome somewhere in the world at a time I felt no one else did. I’m sure they’ve done the same for other fans and players alike. No one else in the Bundesliga, even Union the other Berlin club, had openly taken a stance against injustice in the world. Salomon Kalou was one player that addressed the kneel after the game claiming “Ones heart is too small for hate”. And Sebastian Langkamp’s comments were deep and meaningful.
“We live in the 21st century not the 18th, but some peoples mentality don’t treat it that way.” and he’s right, however just seeing some of the awful responses on social media, claims that Germany has a refugee problem, that Merkel loves terrorism and some other responses that are too vile to even comment on… that sort of level of hate and intolerance is EXACTLY the reason the Hertha players took a knee.
Hertha’s stance against hatred, racism, intolerance was one that should be commended not frowned upon. Football is a platform of the world stage, to bring the issues to attention. The club used that to promote something positive in the hope that Berlin is and remains the open city they and we as fans all know.
A silent gesture paves the way for the world to finally openly address issues that have been present and will remain so if a call for tolerance isn’t made, if the world remains blissfully ignorant it ensures nothing will happen to prevent injustice.
We stand and kneel together and lock arms like a wall.
As Salomon Kalou later said “We stand against racists and that’s our way of sharing that. We are always going to fight against this kind of behavior, as a team and as a city. It shouldn’t exist in any kind of event, in the NFL or in the football world, soccer as they call it there. It shouldn’t exist in any sport, period,”
He is right.
It was the openness and tolerance of Berlin that kept and keeps me coming back.
The call for love, tolerance, acceptance and unity has to start somewhere… why not here?
And if you don’t like that message it’s your problem.
Ha ho he.