A few days ago, the unsmiling conservative at the heart of Germany stated: “gay footballers should not have any fear of coming out. That is my political message.”
It is a refreshing and liberal message from German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel and one that belies her image as the dowdy curmudgeon looking down on the rest of Europe.
She is a politician, but one who has always aligned herself with soccer. So as the Bundesliga embarked upon a national weekend of celebrating tolerance and diversity, the Chancellor took the opportunity to reach some 16 million Germans with immigrant backgrounds, as well as assuring gay footballers that they were not forgotten.
At the official launch of the tolerance drive in the top German league on Thursday, she simply said, “I can think of no stronger partner than sport, and of course, especially football.”
The “integration matchday” saw each team abandoning sponsors and having the slogan “Geh deinen Weg” (‘Go Your Own Way’) emblazoned on their chests. It is hoped that this will inform youngsters to celebrate difference.
Stamping out racism, religious intolerance and homophobia has long been talked about in football in the West, but with the 18 Bundesliga clubs buying into the Merkel message, the Germans have again blazed a trail well before other “civilized” states.
With high-profile football figures like Uli Hoeness standing behind Merkel and saying that “football must now take a stand against racism, xenophobia and discrimination against minorities,” it is hoped that positive advances in thinking can take place. Of course it may well be naive for him to say things like “I can’t imagine that a gay player would have problems with our [Bayern Munich] fans if they came out. FC Bayern is ready for this problem,” but his sentiment is the right one.
Being gay is considered football’s only enduring taboo. It is fantastic that more is being done to promote tolerance of any difference, be it differences in ethnicity or sexual orientation. However, with the issue of the John Terry-Anton Ferdinand handshake dominating the press in England, it is obvious that a lot more should be done to spread the message of open-mindedness.
Will the sponsor-driven sides like Manchester United ever remove a logo to promote a campaign, though?