German football sets the standard for tolerance in welcoming refugees03 September 2015

“Football is a language that unites the world” said Der Spiegel reflecting the thoughts of many newspapers in Germany earlier this week, after a weekend in which German football came together to welcome refugees and stand against intolerance.

Amidst the European migrant crisis, many supporters, professional and grassroots clubs, as well as the German FA, the DFB, showed their support for the hundreds of thousands of refugees that are arriving in the country.

Brandenburger SC Süd Ultras

While news about the rise of racist and xenophobic attacks in Germany has been dominating media in recent weeks, activists responded to it by showing solidarity with people in need.

Even the German tabloid ‘Bild’ devoted seven pages, displaying celebrities like German international Lukas Podolski mobilising against racism and anti-refugee violence with the words: “We all need to help people in need – everybody as s/he can”.

Several football supporters groups have launched projects to help refugees and welcome the new arrivals. A number of Bundesliga clubs offered tickets to hundred of refugees from reception centres to matches over the weekend.

Refugees welcome  – Bundesliga clubs

Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich announced a major step to help refugees arriving from the Hungarian capital Budapest. The club will donate 1 million euro, raised during a friendly match, to local refugee aid projects. The club will also use their next Bundesliga match against FC Augsburg on 12 September to send out a welcoming message. The club said in a statement: “Our players will enter the pitch together with one refugee and a German child to take a stand for inclusion and refugees”. In March, the DFB launched a pioneer initiative to make available 1.2 million euros to support inclusion projects for refugees. Yesterday the German national team released a video taking a stand against hate, aggression and violence against refugees while highlighting Germany’s and the national team’s tolerance and diversity. Adding to these campaigns, individual players, like Hamburger SV goalkeeper René Adler, published videos voicing support for local refugees communities. Other clubs such as current Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund provided relief for people coming to the city after having fled from war and terror. The club and its supporters have been very active in supporting refugees in the past and have now joined the ‘Angekommen in Dortmund’ scheme – literally meaning ‘arrived in Dortmund’ – which is part of a wider national initiative to help refugees settle in. The club welcomed 220 refugees to Borussia Dortmund´s Europa League qualifier match against the Norwegian club Odds Ballklub and enabled the new supporters to watch a 7-2 victory.

Collecting clothing, raising funds and organising tournaments

A Faninitative of Second Bundesliga side Bochum started the project ‘Fußballschuhe für Flüchtlinge‘. The group collected football boots for refugees in the town of Lohring. Activities such as football can be the only distraction in a reception centre but the lack of equipment often bars many from playing. Last weekend the supporters group donated 50 pairs of boots to the people in the centre.

The Munich-based Eintracht Frankfurt supporters club ‘Adler München’ organised a football tournament for refugees in Trudering. The ten teams that competed against each other were deliberately mixed and, hencesaw minor refugees and people of other Bundesligaclubs’ supporters groups such as Hamburger SV and 1860 Munich playing together. Former Hamburger SV legend Jimmy Hartwig lend his support to the tournament.

SV Elversberg, a club playing in the fourth German division, adopted sponsorship for a local refugee hostel and promoted the message: “You are welcome!”

On the weekend and over the last season, crowds at various clubs displayed large banners with the message “Refugees Welcome” during their Bundesliga fixtures.

Media response

Many international newspapers reported about the actions on the stands and in the society as a whole this weekend and praised the “amazing, inspiring scenes at Germany´s football grounds”

Social media buzzed with commendation and calls for action. Many bloggers compliment the welcoming atmosphere created by football supporters and Ultra groups, whose umbrella organisation “Pro Fans” issued a press release to declare “ProFans wishes for this openness and commitment not only to be the attitude of some curves and fan groups in football, but for a commitment to human rights and against discrimination to be self-evident feature in society as a whole as well as in politics and the media.”

A new Twitter campaign has just been launched to call upon football supporters to display messages of support for refugees in stadiums.