Some Soccer Fans Want to Reclaim the Game | World Cup 2006 | DW | 08.06.2006
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World Cup 2006

Some Soccer Fans Want to Reclaim the Game

The World Cup, which starts Friday, will be the culmination of two years of hype that has left no marketing stone unturned. For "true" fans, it has become capitalistic excess and some are rebelling.

The fans want to take the power back and reclaim soccer

The fans want to take the power back and reclaim soccer

For the better part of two years, over 80 million Germans have been literally bombarded by an advertising blitz that has reached epic proportions. It would be almost impossible for someone living in the country not to have heard about the World Cup.

Tournament sponsors know this and have sent out an interminable advertising barrage. McDonalds and Coca-Cola aim at armchair coaches; adidas at potential stars on the pitch; MasterCard at the cash strapped.

FIFA WM 2006 Vermarktung

Be it sweet or sweaty, it has to be associated with the World Cup

The commercialization of the world's most-watched sporting event, and soccer in general, over the past decade and a half has led to a counter reaction amongst fans.

Initiatives, demonstrations, and magazines have taken aim at functionaries like FIFA president Sepp Blatter or Germany World Cup organizer Franz Beckenbauer, and are calling on fans to "reclaim the game."

Security concerns abused

Many think the reclamation of the sport must start at the fan base. Since violence off the pitch often gains as much attention as the final score on it, fears that hooliganism may scar "the beautiful game" have led to security measures some feel are excessive, preventing fans from even making contact with each other.

Französische Fußball Fans

Everybody needs a shoulder to lean on -- and a bed to sleep in

The project "Ein Dach für Fans" (EDFF), or "One Roof for Fans," was founded in Dortmund in 2004 to "provide friendly, people-uniting contacts between German and soccer fans from around the world". For EDFF coordinator, Peter Schüngel, projects like these are necessary as a counterweight to commercialization, which he thinks has played a key role in fueling aggression between fans from other cities and countries.

"Wherever money is being made, it's a law of nature that security will be optimized so that the process can continue," the 54-year-old said.

Hooligans in Charleroi, Euro 2000

Too much security can actually cause tensions to boil over

He is careful to add that when he makes such comments to the press, he doesn't intend to sound like a leftist railing against capitalism. Schüngel admitted that soccer has profited immensely from commercialization, but he said there are limits as to how far security should extend to protect it.

"The separation of fans leads to xenophobia. With the Roof project, we bring supporters together. I can't but recall a saying from an Englishman about soccer fans: 'We're friends and rivals in a common affair'," he said.

"Eat the Rich"

The heads of the Alliance of Active Football Fans (BAFF) have minced no words in expressing their distaste for the overkill of corporate sponsorship at the World Cup. On their Web site, BAFF turned the World Cup mascot -- the oversized, cuddly, but unloved lion Goleo -- into Prolleo, a beer-guzzling, teeth-baring lion, escorted by a bottle of lager.

Prolleo's raison d'etre can be read on the back of his blue jeans vest: "Eat the Rich."

Fußball WM 2006 WM Maskottchen Goleo VI

Goleo may be sweet, but for BAFF the lion symbolizes cold commercialization

It is exactly money, or to be more specific, the need of supporters to have lots of money to view soccer matches, that drives BAFF. VIP areas, the World Cup ticket lottery, and the privileges of sponsors have created a gap that leaves the "poor" fan standing on the outside, looking in.

Giving fans a voice

The media hype regarding the World Cup and the sport overall has left many a soccer supporter alienated. It's no longer about which team wins on the field. The bonds between players and supporters have taken a back seat to the bottom line of wealthy owners, many of whom don't come from the club's city or even country. Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich, owner of London's Chelsea, or American billionaire Malcolm Glazer, who owns Manchester United, are prime examples.

The German soccer magazine 11 Freunde (11 Friends) was born as a result of this fan-team deficit at the turn of the millennium.

"I think the big problem at that time was that there was no publication where people could raise their voice against the commercialization of the sport. We made it our goal to give the fans a voice," said the magazine's editor-in-chief, Philipp Köster.

The 34-year-old pointed out that 11 Freunde openly supports groups like BAFF without going as far as being a mouthpiece for them. As a businessman trying to turn a profit, he knows 11 Freunde walks a thin line between being called hypocritical if too many ads appear, and the alternative -- closing up shop.

For his publication, the World Cup will be a chance to focus on the events that aren't in the spotlight. The fans have been "worn down" by what Köster called a "spectacle of commerce." What everybody most wants now is for the games simply to begin.

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