The multimillion euro Bundesliga sponsorship deals will take a back seat over the weekend, as every club in the top German football division takes to the field with a slogan promoting integration and inclusivity. Even the footballs being used will be adorned, for one week only, with the words "Geh deinen Weg" or "go your own way."
"This signal promoting integration will reach millions of people," Chancellor Angela Merkel, a patron of the initiative, said at a press conference in Berlin. "When it comes to integration, I can scarcely think of a stronger partner than football." Players from 66 different countries have competed in the Bundesliga over the years.
"Sport and particularly football can be the motor for integration," Bayern Munich club president Uli Hoeness said. "Heritage, religion and the color of someone's skin should never be an issue."
Another lonely day
The integration debate took on another dimension after a midweek interview from a gay Bundesliga footballer, who asked to remain anonymous, saying that he was not prepared to out himself for fear of reprisals. No footballer in the professional German leagues has publicly declared himself to be homosexual.
"Sooner or later some players are bound to out themselves," Hoeness said in response, adding that he believed football and his club Bayern Munich would not flinch when the time came. "I cannot imagine that a gay player would have any problems with our fans. FC Bayern is ready. Society as a whole is further along on this issue than the media suggests."
The president of the DFB German football association, Wolfgang Niersbach, said that his organization would be delighted to support any openly homosexual player, whatever league they might play in.
Merkel, meanwhile, sought to assure the unnamed player that he could trust Germany and football fans to understand.
"He lives in a country in which he need have no fear about outing himself publicly," Merkel said. "We can only give the signal that there's nothing to be afraid of."
The first Bundesliga fixture of the weekend takes place on Friday evening, when Augsburg will entertain visitors Wolfsburg.
msh/lw (dapd, dpa, SID)