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Is the DFB's anti-racism campaign sufficient?

March 21, 2024

Germany's football association is launching a new anti-racism campaign. But, in the current climate, its approach may not be enough.

Bernd Neuendorf, Reem Alabali-Radovan and former Germany international Gerald Asamoah hold up a sign flanked by groups of young people
Bernd Neuendorf (center-left), Reem Alabali-Radovan (center) and Gerald Asamoah (center-right) helped launch the campaignImage: Soeren Stache/dpa/picture alliance

During the international weeks against racism (March 11-24), the German football association (DFB) is launching a two-pronged strategy against racism and discrimination under the motto "Football time is the best time against racism."

Fans are encouraged to take part on social media, posting photos of themselves with crossed arms to symbolize the removal of racism from society, while a new pilot project delivering anti-racist measures to amateur clubs in the northeast of the country is also planned. The DFB is also offering anti-racism-themed corner flags to clubs that want them.

"Everyone can do something to combat racism, not only the players, but we want to reach spectators, and parents when it comes to youth teams, to raise awareness of this topic," DFB President Bernd Neuendorf said at an event in Berlin to unveil the campaign.

"That's why it's so important that we take a broader view and not only notice what's happening on the professional fields at the weekend," Neuendorf said. "We also have to address the fact that it's a general problem in society."

Given the relatively consistent racist abuse that Black players at the highest level in Germany have suffered — Gladbach's Jordan Siebatcheu recently faced abuse after the club's German Cup loss — it is no surprise that there are also incidents across the 24,000 amateur football clubs. Indeed, much of the work combating these issues in recent years has fallen on fan groups.

Neuendorf was quick to point out that the country is expecting over 10 million visitors for the Euros this summer, and that as a result it was important for the DFB to "show their true colors."

Former Germany international Gerard Asamoah, who was the target of racist abuse from Hansa Rostock supporters shortly after being feted as a hero at the 2006 World Cup, went even further, saying Euro 2024 is "a huge chance to make amends, and I really believe we can do it."

Even Reem Alabali-Radovan, Germany's federal commissioner for migration, refugees and integration, was present and spoke about the breadth and depth of racist abuse people in Germany suffer.

German football identity: Patrick Owomoyela

Where the work begins not ends

While this campaign and the DFB's efforts make their feelings on equality and discrimination clear, doubt remains as to how effective this campaign will be, given the DFB's track record.

In 2007, the "stay on the ball" campaign was announced, and initially appeared to make a positive impact but by 2011 it was no more. The then-DFB Vice President Rolf Hocke said there wasn't an objective reason it was stopped, but he was quoted at the time as saying that cost played a role. Reportedly, the project cost the DFB around €50,000 ($54,500) a year.

Four years later, another campaign was launched with a 16-page action plan on how clubs should deal with right-wing extremists. At the end of the document there was also the recommendation to save money, including in areas of professional training.

It's not only the DFB's own efforts that are a concern, but also the current social and political climate in Germany that makes the association's current approach look stale and inadequate.

Three years after data finally began to appear on what life was like for Black people in Germany, a report from the National Discrimination and Racism Monitor (NaRiDa) by the German Center for Integration and Migration Research (DeZIM), revealed that more than half of Black people in Germany (54%) have experienced racism at least once.

In early 2024, Germany's far-right party, Alternative for Germany (AfD) was up 10% in the polls from the year before, a trend that sparked hundreds of thousands of protesters across the country to take to the streets as many Germans stood for equality and against discrimination.

UN concerned with Germany

Katharina Masoud, an anti-racism expert at Amnesty International in Germany, believes every awareness-raising campaign matters, but only if organizations practice what they preach. 

"To be credible, organizations and institutions that do engage in awareness-raising campaigns against racism obviously need to continue working on it, also when the public is not watching anymore."

Amnesty points out, that in 2021, the DFB adopted a human rights policy to combat discrimination. Football associations – like companies – have due diligence obligations. So in regard to their own policy, as well as international law – for example the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights – they are obliged to act.

"Recently the UN Committee on the elimination of racial discrimination actually reviewed Germany and in their concluding observations, the committee expressed concern about numerous cases of racial discrimination and racist attacks against athletes, in particular football players. The committee was also concerned about the lack of effective measures to combat such acts," Masoud explained.

"There should be no excuse of not knowing where the problem areas are and there are many recommendations that were also made by the UN, but also by many civil society organizations to take adequate measures to combat structural discrimination and the persistence of structures of racial inequality, and to acknowledge the root causes of racial discrimination, including colonialism and slavery."

Sustainable effort

While the hope is that the DFB's campaign can help, the truth is it only will if it is accompanied by sound, sustainable strategies to combat structural racism on multiple levels. The same is true of the approaching Euros, a tournament which is being touted as an event that could have the same social impact as the 2006 World Cup in Germany did. Again though, that kind of effect is only possible if the Euros are the starting point and not the end.

"I don't think that the tournament will spark a conversation that is not already happening, but it may reach a wider audience, Masoud said.

"This would be a very positive outcome."

Edited by: Chuck Penfold