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Euro 2024: AfD stirs debate over 'woke' national team

July 1, 2024

During Euro 2024, German politicians are proudly supporting the host side, save for some members of the far-right AfD party. They criticize the German team as being too woke, too diverse, and not German enough.

A diverse array of German players sing the national anthem before a recent match
Nine players on Germany's team have foreign roots, to the dismay of some AfD members Image: Silas Schueller/DeFodi/picture alliance

Karl Lauterbach seems ever-present for Germany's national team.

The federal health minister attended Germany's second Euro 2024 group match against Hungary in Stuttgart, the third group game against Switzerland in Frankfurt, and also the Round of 16 victory against Denmark in Dortmund.

Indeed, the politician, best known for marshalling Germany through the Coronavirus pandemic, has consistently posted selfies on X, featuring other members of the federal government in varying configurations alongside him.

The pictures range from Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser. Baerbock and Faeser also tweet often about the Euros. 

Although Chancellor Scholz is more reserved on social media, occasionally he is interviewed on his impressions and expectations for the German National Team (DFB), revealing that his enthusiasm for the side may in fact surpass his football expertise.

What it shows, is that Germany's top politicians are collectively reflecting the prevailing mood in the country: the Euros are a fantastic event, the atmosphere surrounding the tournament is excellent, and Germans are enjoying their peacefully-celebrating guests from Scotland, the Netherlands, and other participating countries. 

There's also a sense of pride in the German team, and in the nation's role as host. The hope for another "summer fairy tale" like that which was achieved during the home 2006 World Cup has already, to a great extent, been realized.

Germans are proving to be good hosts with packed fan zones and German flags waving everywhere. The performance by the hosts has undoubtedly helped peak interest in the tournament, as well. 

Rejection of the national team in parts of the AfD

In stark contrast, enthusiasm for the national team is lacking among many politicians within the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The AfD is a right-wing populist party, that is particularly strong in eastern Germany.

The party, who came out as a significant winner in the recent European Parliament elections, are advocates for stricter asylum and immigration regulations, hold conservative family and social views, and offers support to the Russian side in their invasion of Ukraine.

Some leading AfD politicians find the national team insufficiently white, not German enough, too "woke" (a colloquial term used to describe alertness to social issues including discrimination against minorities), and too diverse.

Maximilian Krah, a member of the European Parliament for the  AfD, called the German team a "politically-correct mercenary squad" on TikTok before the tournament started.

AfD politician Björn Höcke looks to the right of the camera
According to his own statements, AfD politician Björn Höcke has not watched any national team matches since 2014.Image: endrik Schmidt/dpa/picture alliance

"It's the rainbow team. The pride team," he said. "We can ignore it."

Furthermore, Björn Höcke, the AfD parliamentary leader in the eastern state of Thuringia, voiced his disapproval of football "oozing with rainbow ideology" in the Swiss weekly newspaper "Weltwoche".

He reminisced about the German team that won the 1990 World Cup in Italy,  and the 2006 World Cup team that made the semi-finals in Germany, as "moments of happiness." But, he added: "Today, I can no longer identify with our national team."

Germany squad a mirror of society

Several players from Germany's side at this year's Euros do have foreign roots. Jonathan Tah has a German mother and an Ivorian father. Benjamin Henrichs is the son of a German father and a Ghanaian mother. Antonio Rüdiger has a German father and a mother from Sierra Leone.

Captain Ilkay Gündogan, Emre Can, and Deniz Undav have Turkish roots, while Waldemar Anton has Russian heritage. Leroy Sané's father is from Senegal, and Jamal Musiala's father is from Nigeria.

It is a German team that mirrors German society, and is as diverse as most kindergarten groups or school classes in the country. 

Jonathan Tah looks straight ahead
Just like his teammates of color, Jonathan Tah has often been racially abusedImage: Revierfoto/IMAGO

Germany has a population of about 84 million people, with approximately 25 million having an immigration background, and around 15 percent of the population lacking German citizenship. 

Yet, many members and supporters of the AfD, and even other Germans who do not necessarily vote for the AfD, dislike Germany's diversity.

They are skeptical and dismissive of anything foreign, and sometimes voice fear of perceived economic and social disadvantages due to excessive immigration. Others are more extreme and openly xenophobic.

Correspondingly, social media comments are often filled with racist abuse when Black players like Tah, Rüdiger, Sané, or Henrichs appear in posts.

Pride or rejection?

Just before the Euros began, a survey caused a stir by asking whether respondents would prefer it if more white-skinned players were part of the German national team. Twenty-one percent agreed with the statement.

The survey, conducted by a renowned polling institute on behalf of Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) and presented in the documentary "Unity and Justice and Diversity," found the proportion of those supporting the idea of wanting more white players on the team was particularly high among AfD voters, at 47 percent. 

Since then, rejecting the German team has been a topic of discussion by many AfD supporters.

Speaking on a TV talk show called "Markus Lanz", Serap Güler, a politican for centre-right party the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, said: "I would almost bet that the self-proclaimed patriots, the AfD, pray daily for the national team to be eliminated."

Güler, who was born and raised in Germany to Turkish, guest-worker parents, added, "So they can say: 'See, we told you, these are not real Germans. That's why we were eliminated.'"

It will therefore be interesting to see how AfD supporters react if the German team ultimately wins the Euros. 

Would pride prevail for being Europe's best football nation? Or would the rejection of the "foreign" players with the "wrong skin color" and "too woke political stance," who contributed to the victory, dominate the reaction?

Edited by: Kyle McKinnon and Kalika Mehta

This article was adapted from German