Fifa's Anti-Racism Campaign: Talking Racism in Hitler's Stadium

By Mario Kaiser

Football's world governing body FIFA picked Berlin's Olympic stadium, built by Hitler for the 1936 Olympics, to launch its "Say No To Racism" campaign last week. SPIEGEL's Mario Kaiser savored the occasion in historically charged surroundings.

Jesse Owens shown in action in a 200-meter preliminary heat at the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. (AP Photo)
AP

Jesse Owens shown in action in a 200-meter preliminary heat at the 1936 Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. (AP Photo)

In the catacombs of Hitler's stadium, in a windowless bunker-like room, sits a man discussing racism, his skin color is black. Tokyo Sexwale lays out two sheets of paper in front of him and raises his head, he has quick, slightly dull eyes. "I would like to read my speech from the manuscript because the issue of racism is so close to my heart," he says.

It would be hard to find a more historically charged venue to talk about racism and sport than the cellar of Berlin's Olympic Stadium. In the glare of TV lights, Sexwale is flanked by German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, FIFA President Sepp Blatter and Franz Beckenbauer, the head of Germany's World Cup organizing committee.

Sexwale comes from South Africa, where the next World Cup will be held in 2010. He knows all about racism. He grew up under Apartheid and fought it. The price he paid: 15 years in prison on on Robben Island. "I got a discount," he says with a laugh, referring to the fact that his sentence called for him to spend 18 years behind bars.

An African talks about racism in Germany and laughs? It's a scene that fits in nicely with the country's image of itself in recent weeks as a light-hearted, open and warm place, a land that is both likeable and welcoming.

Problems with racism

The fact that this image has been created in Germany's football stadiums is as surprising as the image itself. It wasn't so so long ago that black players in Bundesliga stadiums were greeted with bananas and shouts of "Negro in the Bush". It wasn't long ago that Patrick Owomoyela, who has a German mother and a Nigerian father, took legal action against the far-right NPD party because it used his picture to campaign for an all-white national team.

And it wasn't long ago that Cameroonian player Samuel Eto'o wanted to leave the pitch in Saragossa, Spain, because the crowd greeted him with ape sounds. In Italy a player made a Hitler salute as if Mussolini was in the VIP stand instead of Silvio Berlusconi. And to silence German racists, a black player in a lower-division league offered his own Nazi salute.

Sexwale looked down at his speech text and said this new image didn't surprise him. "Football has attained a greater influence than the United Nations," he said. "Who in his right mind would want to separate Eto'o from Beckham, Ronaldhino from Shevchenko, Rooney from Drogba, Figo from Henry, Radebe from Maradona, Ronaldo from Raul or worse, Beckenbauer from Pele -- the Kaiser from the King?"

Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa flanked by German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and FIFA President Joseph Blatter.
DPA

Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa flanked by German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and FIFA President Joseph Blatter.

Franz Beckenbauer nods as if he agrees with this world order. He seems a bit removed, it's the first match-free day of the tournament, maybe he's forgotten where the helicopter dropped him off, the country must have become very small from his bird's eye view, and maybe the world has too.

Yet to Blatter and Schäuble in their suits and ties, Beckenbauer in his golden yellow polo shirt looks a bit like a horse breeder, his face is brown as if he used the break in matches to fly to Zimbabwe to discuss racism against whites with Robert Mugabe.

"I'll be brief," says Beckenbauer in his Bavarian accent, and goes on to draw a line from the big bang to the World Cup. "That's how God wanted it to be, how he wanted the world to become," says Beckenbauer.

"We're only at the beginning of the evolution. In a few hundred thousand years man may have become how our dear Lord wanted him to be." Until then, the world would have to rely on football to make it a better place. "Only football can do that on this scale," said Beckenbauer, taking a few gulps of still water.

Football making the world better?

A few journalists ponder whether to throw away their notepads and start applauding when a British reporters asks Schäuble why so many Africans couldn't get German visas to visit the World Cup.

Schäuble smiles ands says, "We're a country, and that's a problem sometimes, that takes rules and regulations very seriously."

They file out of the cellar, Schäuble, Blatter, Beckenbauer, Sexwale, and walk through a labyrinth out onto the pitch.

They stand behind a banner that says "Say No to Racism" and smile for the cameras. Tokyo Sexwale stands on the grass and recalls his visits to East Berlin when he was an ANC activist. He's 53 now, a successful businessman, one of South Africa's richest men. There's a gleam in his eyes as he talks about German precision and technology, of German culture and strength. Of German history.

He looks around and thinks of Jesse Owens, the black athlete who spoiled the 1936 Olympic Games for the Nazis by winning four gold medals. "History pursues us, but the future always has the last laugh," says Sexwale.

He laughs out loud and gets into a silver limousine, the guest of honor in Hitler's stadium.

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