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SPORT: World Cup Scores for Integration, For Now

Jess Smee

BERLIN, Jun 28 2006 (IPS) - A German flag the size of a bath towel flaps in front of the Anadou bakery, one of umpteen meeting points for Turkish immigrants in central Berlin.
      Half eclipsed by Germany’s black, red and gold stripes hangs a far smaller Turkish flag.

A German flag the size of a bath towel flaps in front of the Anadou bakery, one of umpteen meeting points for Turkish immigrants in central Berlin.

Half eclipsed by Germany’s black, red and gold stripes hangs a far smaller Turkish flag.

“We are all for Germany,” says Bayram, the bakery’s owner who has been in the country for 30 years but can hardly speak German.

Sitting at tables underneath the fluttering Deutschland flag, men chat in Turkish and sip glasses of coffee in the sunshine.

Bayram, like many of his compatriots, hopes to return to his country of birth one day. He says he does not want a German passport and spends most of his time among Turkish people. But when it comes to the football World Cup, he is one hundred percent behind Germany.


There are more than two million Turks in Germany – making them the biggest immigrant group in a country where foreigners account for nearly nine percent of the population (82 million).

Turkish people were among those who flocked to Germany to find employment during the post-Word War II economic boom. Many of these so-called guest workers settled, creating a well-established community. Among the third and even fourth generations, many retain strong links to their country of origin, and would consider themselves Turkish rather than German.

But as the World Cup gathers pace, many Turks are vociferously supporting their country of residency – especially after Turkey failed to qualify for the tournament.

In Kreuzberg, a region nick-named Little Istanbul for its large Turkish population, football fever is infectious. On the sprawling twice-weekly Turkish market, the “schwarz-rot-gold” flag is draped over stalls selling spices and olives.

And following Germany’s 2-0 win against Sweden on Saturday, the nationwide party was an international affair. Minutes after the match, immigrants, including women in headscarves, were among those driving a celebratory circuit around the city, cheering and sounding horns. Flags fluttered on car roofs, with the German flag often carefully positioned alongside its Turkish or Arabic counterpart.

As minorities rally behind the national team, right now there is an unusual sense of unity in a nation which, like others in Europe, is struggling to integrate newcomers.

It is a welcome change for Germany where the integration of immigrants has been a burning issue this year, fanned by news of violence in a secondary school where most students were foreigners, and the so-called “honour killing” case when a Turkish man killed his sister for living a too westernised lifestyle.

And, given that the threat of racist violence in Germany clouded World Cup preparations, the upbeat response by immigrants has been more than welcome.

“It has taken us by surprise,” Eren Unsal, spokeswoman for the Turkish community group TBB told IPS. “It is a positive signal that there is so much solidarity with the national team. It sends a strong message about people’s identification with Germany.”

She said Berlin-based Turks had breathed a sigh of relief that Germany would not play Turkey in the tournament. Such a contest would trigger split loyalties for some German-born Turks, not to mention a potential security headache for the police.

Surprisingly enough, Germany’s large Turkish community has not been reflected in the German team, with the exception of former national player Mehmet Scholl, whose father is Turkish.

That is surprising given this year’s ethnic rainbow of players. Almost a fourth of the national squad have foreign roots, spanning Switzerland, Ghana and Poland, the birthplace of their prized striker Miroslav Klose.

Many top Turkish players who qualify for German citizenship choose to play for the land of their predecessors, in part due to the Turkish Soccer Association’s proactive recruitment of leading players in Europe and in part due to discrimination in German football at all levels, immigrants’ organisations say.

Eren Unsal hopes that the German team will field Turkish players in the future, saying that it would provide all-important role models for the Turkish community.

Non-governmental organisations and immigration experts are in little doubt that sport is a unique way of creating inroads into new societies.

“By playing football, migrants are able to express their way of life on a simple level, and meet other people: football can offer relief from the stresses of everyday life and help to build bridges,” Floodlight, an organisation campaigning for an anti-racist football culture, said in a press release.

Floodlight is part of a pan-European campaigning network Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) which, together with the Fifa and German World Cup organisers, is running anti-racism projects both inside and outside of the stadiums.

They are tackling discrimination at a grassroots level by coordinating sports activities with young Germans from ethnic minorities. During the tournament they are running a multilingual hotline for fans to report racism, and are distributing 35,000 anti-racism fanzines.

Thus far, organisers have been impressed and relieved by the comparative tranquility of the international event. But experience suggests that any World Cup induced harmony is likely to be short-lived.

During the World Cup in France in 1998, the winning and ethnically diverse French team sparked talk of progress and a greater acceptance of French society’s multicultural reality. But hopes were soon dashed by tighter immigration laws and last autumn’s violent riots in Paris suburbs which revealed the underlying inter-racial tension.

In Berlin, TBB’s Unsal fears the current multicultural euphoria is too good to last.

“It is hard to see any long term improvement from the World Cup,” she said. “Right now the atmosphere is very good but unfortunately all it takes is a few sparks and that will change overnight.”

 
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SPORT: World Cup Scores for Integration, For Now

Jess Smee

BERLIN, Jun 28 2006 (IPS) - A German flag the size of a bath towel flaps in front of the Anadou bakery, one of umpteen meeting points for Turkish immigrants in central Berlin.
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