Euro 2024: AfD stirs debate in Germany over ‘woke’ national team

Some members of the right-wing populist party still criticise the men’s football team as being too woke, too diverse, and not German enough.

Published : Jul 01, 2024 19:03 IST - 5 MINS READ

Nine players on Germany’s team have foreign roots, to the dismay of some AfD members.

Nine players on Germany’s team have foreign roots, to the dismay of some AfD members. | Photo Credit: Silas Schueller/DeFodi/picture alliance

Karl Lauterbach seems ever-present for Germany’s national team. The Federal Health Minister attended Germany’s second Euro 2024 group match against Hungary in Stuttgart, the third group game against Switzerland in Frankfurt, and also the Round of 16 victory against Denmark in Dortmund.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) politician has consistently posted selfies on X, featuring other members of the federal government in varying configurations alongside him, such as Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser. Baerbock and Faeser also regularly tweet about the Euros and the German national team. While Chancellor Scholz is more reserved on social media, he is occasionally interviewed about the German Football Association (DFB) team, on his impressions and expectations for the squad, revealing that his enthusiasm for the team may surpass his football expertise.

Germany’s top politicians collectively reflect the prevailing mood in the country: the Euros are a fantastic event, the atmosphere surrounding the tournament is excellent, and Germans are enjoying their peacefully celebrating guests from Scotland, the Netherlands, and other participating countries.

There is also a sense of pride in the German team and the nation’s role as host. The hope for another “summer fairy tale” like that during the Germany-hosted 2006 World Cup has, to a great extent, been realised. Germans are proving to be good hosts with full fan zones and German flags waving everywhere. The performance of the German team has helped peak interest in the tournament, as well.

Rejection of the national team in parts of the AfD

In stark contrast, enthusiasm for the German national team is lacking among many politicians with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. The AfD is a right-wing populist party, particularly strong in eastern Germany. The party was a significant winner in the recent European Parliament elections. The AfD advocates for stricter asylum and immigration regulations, holds conservative family and social views, and offers support to the Russian side in their invasion of Ukraine.

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Some leading AfD politicians find the German national team insufficiently white, not German enough, too “woke” (a colloquial term used to describe alertness to social issues including discrimination against minorities), and too diverse. Maximilian Krah, a member of the European Parliament for the AfD, called the German team a “politically correct mercenary squad” on TikTok before the tournament started. “It’s the rainbow team. The pride team,” he said. “We can ignore it.”

Björn Höcke, the AfD parliamentary leader in the eastern state of Thuringia, voiced his disapproval of football “oozing with rainbow ideology” in the Swiss weekly newspaper Weltwoche. He reminisced about the German team that won the 1990 World Cup in Italy, and the 2006 World Cup team that made the semi-finals in Germany, as “moments of happiness”. But he added: “Today, I can no longer identify with our national team.”

Germany squad a mirror of society

Indeed, several players on the German team participating in Euro 2024 have foreign roots. Jonathan Tah has a German mother and an Ivorian father. Benjamin Henrichs is the son of a German father and a Ghanaian mother. Antonio Rüdiger has a German father and a mother from Sierra Leone. Captain Ilkay Gündogan, Emre Can, and Deniz Undav have Turkish roots, while Waldemar Anton has Russian heritage. Leroy Sané’s father is from Senegal, and Jamal Musiala’s father is from Nigeria.

The German team mirrors German society and is as diverse as most kindergarten groups or school classes in the country. Germany has a population of about 84 million people, with approximately 25 million having an immigration background, and around 15 percent of the population lacking German citizenship.

Many members and supporters of the AfD, and even other Germans who do not necessarily vote for the AfD, dislike Germany’s diversity. They are sceptical and dismissive of anything foreign and sometimes voice fear of perceived economic and social disadvantages due to excessive immigration. Others are more extreme and openly xenophobic. Correspondingly, social media comments are often filled with racist abuse when Black players like Tah, Rüdiger, Sané, or Henrichs appear in posts.

Pride or rejection?

Before the Euros, a survey caused a stir by asking whether respondents would prefer it if more white-skinned players were part of the German national team. Twenty-one per cent thought so.

The survey, conducted by a renowned polling institute on behalf of Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) and presented in the documentary Unity and Justice and Diversity, found the proportion of those supporting the idea of more white players on the team was particularly high among AfD voters, at 47 per cent. Since then, the rejection of the German national team by many AfD supporters has been a topic of discussion.

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“I would almost bet that the self-proclaimed patriots, the AfD, pray daily for the national team to be eliminated,” said CDU politician Serap Güler, on the TV talk show Markus Lanz. Güler, who was born and raised in Germany to Turkish, guest-worker parents, added, “So they can say: ‘See, we told you, these are not real Germans. That’s why we were eliminated.’”

It will indeed be interesting to see how AfD supporters react if the German team ultimately wins the European Championships tournament. Would pride prevail for being Europe’s best football nation? Or would the rejection of the “foreign” players with the “wrong skin colour” and “too woke political stance”, who contributed to the victory, dominate the reaction?

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