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A Germany fan holding rainbow flags
Germany has made progress in fighting discrimination in the soccer stadium, but still has room for improvementImage: Frank Hoermann/Sven Simon/IMAGO

How Germany promotes LGBTQ tolerance in its soccer stadiums

Oliver Pieper
November 30, 2022

In Germany, there has been much criticism of World Cup host Qatar for discriminating against the LGBTQ community. But when it comes to soccer, is Germany a good role model?


When the German squad faces Costa Rica for a place in the FIFA World Cup round of 16 on Thursday, Sven Kistner will do something that seemed unthinkable to the die-hard soccer fan not long ago: he will not watch the match. Kistner is boycotting this year's World Cup in Qatar.

"We queer soccer fans consider the decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar a crazy idea that was made primarily for the sake of money," he told DW. "Especially because of the massive human rights violations in Qatar, be it against workers, against women, but of course also against the queer community."

For the past 15 years, Kistner has been campaigning to make LGBTQ people feel welcome and visible in German football stands.

Sven Kistner in a stadium
Sven Kistner is an LGBTQ activist and passionate soccer fanImage: privat

In 2006, Kistner co-founded Queerpass Bayern, the first gay and lesbian fan club of the serial German champions Bayern Munich, at a time when homophobic abuse happened frequently in stadiums.

"That has become much less common over the last 15 years," he said. "Homophobic incidents are now rather isolated cases. But it took time to get here, of course, and it would also be naive to say that you now expect other countries to get there overnight."

Queer fan clubs throughout Europe

Kistner is also involved in Queer Football FanClubs, a network that is now active beyond Germany: Bradford City LGBT, Roze Regahs from The Hague and the Wankdorf Junxx from Young Boys Bern have also joined the organization. Their goal is to promote more gay and lesbian fan clubs and integrate them into the larger fan scene — something that is still challenged at football matches today.

Activists criticize lack of LGBTQ reform in Qatar

"When I'm at a game and something offensive catches my eye, I always assess the possible risks for myself before I speak out," said Kistner.

"If I feel it is safe to do so, then I speak directly to people to make them aware of what effect their words or actions may have on other people. I think that's the best way to deal with it, but it's not always easy."

DFB creates a central contact point

Christian Rudolph also needed courage when German football's governing body, the DFB, approached the Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany with an idea: to set up a central point of contact for gender and sexual diversity, with himself as its head. But the activist and soccer fan didn't have to think for long, and helped launched the initiative in January 2021.

His balance sheet after less than two years is quite impressive. At last year's European Championships, the German national team played wearing the rainbow armband and the DFB was heavily involved in Pride Month.

A middle aged man with a beard, short black hair and wearing a black shirt
Christian Rudolph is the representative for LGBTQ issues with the German Football associationImage: Caro Kadatz

"The second thing was our milestone: the implementation of playing rights for trans and nonbinary players, which now applies nationwide to all state and regional associations," he said. "That was a very important step. And thirdly, the preparations for Qatar, where we were in dialogue with the national team and the head of the DFB, Bernd Neuendorf. We hadn't experienced that degree of openness before."

Qatar and FIFA under fire

But for Rudolph, the World Cup in Qatar is a red flag, especially after Qatari World Cup ambassador and former national player Khalid Salman referred to homosexuality as "damage in the mind" in an interview with German TV before the event. Rudolph's disappointment was complete when FIFA banned the wearing of rainbow colors and certain European national teams backtracked on their plans to have their captains play wearing a OneLove anti-discrimination armband.

But does he really believe that Germany is as progressive in its treatment of LGBTQ fans and players as it claims to be? Rudolph still sees a lot of room for improvement.

"I already see that the Premier League in the UK or the US soccer league are further ahead," he said. "There, the entire league participates in Pride Month."

Jake Daniels
Jake Daniels this year became the UK's first active professional footballer to come out as gayImage: Mark Cosgrove/News Images/IMAGO

In England, meanwhile, Blackpool's Jake Daniels this year became the UK's first active professional footballer to come out as gay.

"That has something to do with the fact that the clubs there also strongly support the queer networks," said Rudolph. "The clubs participate in Christopher Street Day and also post personal messages."

Before Daniels, the Australian Josh Cavallo of Adelaide United had also come out in October 2021. Such a move is still unthinkable in Germany, said Rudolph. But he feels the discussion shouldn't focus only on the players. "We always talk about waiting for the first coming-out of a gay German professional player," he said. "But where are queer board members, coaches and queer employees in the clubs' offices?"

Change 'must begin at the youth level'

Rudolph is an ardent supporter of amateur club Tennis Borussia Berlin, who are sometimes greeted with homophobic chants at away games in Chemnitz or Berlin's FC Dynamo. In the lower leagues, he said, fans don't shy away from making sexist and homophobic remarks.

Thomas Hitzlsperger
German national team player Thomas Hitzlsperger came out as gay only after he retired from sportsImage: imago

"It's enormously important for young people to be empowered in the youth performance centers, to be encouraged to accept all sexual preferences and genders," said Rudolph. "But the adults working with them also need to be trained, because it doesn't help much if we educate the young people and then find the coaches are lagging behind in terms of awareness."

A recent survey found that 60% of German soccer fans supported the concerns of the LGBTQ community, and the country will have the opportunity to show it has made progress when it hosts the European Championship in two years' time.

"The 2024 European Championship is a great opportunity for us to organize an event where everyone is really welcome," said Rudolph.

This article was originally written in German.

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

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