FC Bundestag: German MPs use football to mend Russia ties ahead of World Cup | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.06.2018
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FC Bundestag: German MPs use football to mend Russia ties ahead of World Cup

This team isn't selected by a coach, it's chosen by the people: Fifteen German parliamentarians are going up against their Russian counterparts in a football match this week. Their goal: Use sports to win at politics.

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German politicians to play soccer in Russia

"I am looking forward to meeting the Russian colleagues in Moscow." That's the kind of remark you would expect to hear German footballers like Thomas Müller, Mesut Özil or Manuel Neuer tell reporters ahead of next week's FIFA World Cup. However it was not footballers who uttered those words, but rather Thomas Oppermann, the vice president of Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. Because just like the German national team players who will soon take to the pitch in Russia, Oppermann is preparing to represent his country in a football match, and a rather special one at that.

Read more: 100 things to know ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia

The Bundestag lawmaker is one of 15 German parliamentarians who are heading off to Moscow for a competition on Friday that will combine sports and politics. The MPs will be swapping their suits, ties and policy briefings for shinguards, boots and the official kit worn by Germany's football team at the World Cup for a match against their counterparts in Russia's parliament, the State Duma.

Lawmakers with a passion for the pitch

While the German national team's kit is graced with four stars, symbolizing the four World Cup titiles the country has won, the lawmakers' jerseys are emblazoned with a unique team name: FC Bundestag. Founded in 1961, this cross-party parliamentary sports team meets up during legislative session to both train and play other political and amateur teams. "We are professional lawmakers, but in the area of football we are nonprofessionals," Oppermann, a member of the center-left Social Democratic Party, told DW. "We play once a week."

FC Bundestag Berlin (DW/T.Sparrow)

FC Bundestag regularly plays matches in Berlin against other amateur sides

He believes that sending FC Bundestag to improve Germany-Russia ties through a friendly game of football is necessary in the current political climate. "Russia is not our enemy," Oppermann said. "But we have severe political differences and we have to work on overcoming these differences."

Tackling politics on the sidelines

Though the match will be accompanied by meetings afterwards, big policy breakthroughs are not expected. "We will not negotiate political questions," said Oppermann. "We will just have an exchange of opinions." While they'll play nice on the pitch, he expects they will still tackle some serious issues once the game is over. "We will confront our colleagues so they can see how deep the gap between Russia and Germany is and what we have to do to overcome [that] and re-establish friendly ties," Oppermann said.

Issues expected to be discussed include the conflict in eastern Ukraine, particularly the establishment of a ceasefire and a planned UN peace keeping mission. "We also have to talk about things like the involvement of Russians in cyberattacks in Germany, as well as the financing of right-wing parties in Europe."

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Bundestag FC

Oppermann believes the fact that these talks are conducted in a rather informal setting helps. "Sports in general, football in particular, is a way of getting in touch and meeting as people, not as politicians," he said. "Look at the Olympic Games in Korea: There was rapprochement between South Korea and North Korea and it was an opportunity to talk."

Not as match-fit, but with the same fighting spirit

According to Oppermann, those kind of talks are desperately needed between Berlin and Moscow . "Russia is important for solving international problems," he said. "We need Russia to establish order in Syria and when it comes to helping Israel to have safe borders and keep away Iranian troops."

Read more: Jailed in Russia, filmmaker Oleg Sentsov looks to Germany's Angela Merkel for help

Despite the opportunity to score political points on the sidelines, the most pressing issue will still be what happens on the pitch: Who is going to win? Remembering the last face-off 10 years ago in Berlin, Oppermann is not particularly optimistic. "Last time we met the Russians we lost heavily, I think it was by 10 goals," he said. But the German politician wants the team to make Germany proud. Even if they are not as match-fit as the actual national team, he believes they will have just as much fighting spirit: "We will give our best, we will try hard."

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