Article written for Total Football magazine.
Last weekend, all 18 clubs of the Bundesliga replaced their commercial shirt sponsors with the slogan ‘Geh Deinen Weg.’
It translates into English as ‘Go Your Own Way.’
So why are German teams foregoing their multi-million Euro sponsors to promote a 1970s Fleetwood Mac single?
The essence of the Go Your Own Way campaign is to promote individuality and integration within German society.
Like the English game, the German leagues have been blighted by racism and a lack of acceptance of different cultures.
A sizeable problem when you consider the German national team has players of Turkish, Polish and Spanish descent within the squad.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, launched the integration campaign at a press conference last week.
An interesting choice of spokesperson when you think a few years earlier, this ultra conservative politician claimed that multiculturalism in Germany had ‘failed.’
Unification is a familiar concept to the German population and Merkel is savvy enough to understand that football is a medium that brings together all sectors of society.
“When it comes to integration, I can scarcely think of a stronger partner than football.” Angela Merkel remarked at the launch of ‘Go Your Own Way.’
However, can one weekend of raising awareness and political posturing solve the problem of integrating players who are deemed to be different?
A zero tolerance policy
Bayern Munich’s President, Ule Hoeness said at the ‘Go Your Own Way’ press conference, ‘Heritage, religion and the colour of someone’s skin should never be an issue.’
An admirable sentiment but the facts are that racism is a continuing problem across all German leagues.
In August, Dynamo Dresden striker Mickael Porte was subjected to monkey chants during a cup match and Borussia Dortmund are investigating their own fans for promoting Neo-Nazi groups during matches.
Dortmund has implemented a zero tolerance policy for dealing with fans that are caught with racist banners or singing derogatory chants to players of differing ethnicities.
In the close season, the reigning league champions fitted sophisticated surveillance cameras into their Signal Iduna Park stadium to monitor fans in the ground.
Years of issues with right-wing extremist groups have forced the club’s hand.
Whether you agree with the intrusive method or not, Dortmund were proved to be justified when they identified a member of a Neo-Nazi group, holding a racist banner during their opening match of the Bundesliga season against Werder Bremen.
Borussia Dortmund think their investment has been ‘worth every penny,’ even if it means weeding racists out of the club one at a time. To the Bundesliga champions, actions speak louder than campaign slogans.
Acceptance of ‘coming out.’
The timing of ‘Geh Deinen Weg’ couldn’t be better as days before the launch of the campaign, an unnamed German footballer gave an interview to a national magazine about his experiences of being a gay man in the footballing sphere.
Although the player essentially ‘came out’ he also made the conscious decision to remain anonymous.
A move that is indicative of a sport that is not ready to accept a homosexual player.
The question of whether a gay player should or even could openly discuss their sexuality without it affecting their game has been discussed.
In his autobiography the German captain Philipp Lahm said, “I would not advise any gay professional footballer to come out…I would fear that he could end up like Justin Fashanu who, after he outed himself, was driven into such a corner that he ended up committing suicide.”
Lahm’s Bayern Munich team-mate Mario Gomez, holds the opposite view that being openly gay would make the footballer ‘play as though they’d been unshackled’ and that ‘being gay hasn’t been a taboo topic for a while.’
The unnamed gay player appears to agree with Lahm.
In the interview with Fluter magazine the player said ‘I would no longer be safe if my sexuality was to be made public.’
If a footballer’s safety is in question when discussing his lifestyle choices openly, then clearly the sport has some way to go in it’s attempt to unify and integrate.
The ‘Go Your Own Way’ campaign may not solve the issues of integration but the fact that healthy debate about the subject is taking place is maybe a step forward for the country and the Bundesliga.