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German football bars boycott ‘unacceptable’ Qatar World Cup

In light of controversial Qatar World Cup, some German sports bars are boycotting showing the game entirely - or using the streaming to highlight human rights abuses.

Berlin sports bar
Women's football fans gathered to watch a game between Germany and France in July 2022 at Tante Käthe. The sports bar will be streaming the World Cup but using the tournament to highlight human rights abuses. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

When Germany kick off their Qatar World Cup campaign against Japan next week, the projector screens at Berlin’s Fargo football bar will be in their unusual rolled-up position.

The bar, which tailors its regular opening hours to the football schedule, will not even open its doors until an hour after the match is completed.

“We do not agree that the World Cup should take place in a country where the purpose is obviously sports washing and to make the country look different internationally than it actually is,” Fargo spokesperson Joschik Pech told AFP.

“We would not feel good having fun watching the games when we know (it’s a place) where (a person’s) sexuality cannot be lived out freely,” he said.

READ ALSO: How a World Cup comment started a human rights debate in Germany

Fargo is one of dozens of bars across Germany, including several in the capital of Berlin, which have pledged to boycott what is normally a showpiece event in the football-mad nation.

Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, women and the LGBTQ community has come under the spotlight as it prepares to host the tournament. Qatar has angrily rebuffed most of the attacks.

The chief World Cup organiser said attacks on the Gulf state had been launched because it “competed as equals and snatched” the World Cup from rival bidders.

Several other sites, including Berlin’s famous ‘Fan Mile’ against the backdrop of the Brandenburg Gate, have cancelled public viewing events, officially due to concerns surrounding the weather, energy costs and risk of
Covid infections.

Members of Germany’s activist football fan culture have been particularly outspoken about the event, with supporters of several high-profile clubs including Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Union Berlin and St Pauli urging boycotts.

‘Unacceptable’

Not wanting to simply ignore the month-long tournament, Fargo will hold several events parallel to World Cup matches, including human rights lectures and group trips to amateur and women’s football matches.
“We expect that there will be a loss of sales and of course a loss in profits, but we don’t think it will be so bad that the pub will go bankrupt,” Pech said.

“We are also trying to get people to the bar with our alternative programme, which I think will attract some people.”

Fargo’s decision is not an unpopular one among customers. Sebastian, 24, a self-described “active football fan” told AFP he supported the boycott and would do the same.

“I would like to watch it, but I won’t,” adding that “up until this point I’ve watched every World Cup played in my lifetime.”

“When people freezing in their own apartments because of the energy policy situation here in Germany, watching a tournament played in artificially cooled stadiums, that’s unacceptable.”

Another Fargo customer, Stella, told AFP she would also boycott the event for the first time, saying she hoped fan sentiment would force people to think more critically about World Cup hosts.

“I find it a little difficult that this is the first year where people recognise the problems… People should have actually recognised the need to boycott certain places and certain World Cups much earlier.”

The 22-year-old however said she remembered previous World Cups fondly and knew she may be tempted to change her mind.

“I can imagine that if Germany somehow made it to the final and my friends called me and said ‘hey Stella, we’re going to go and watch it’, I might find it difficult to say no, because it’s pretty cool to watch it with your
friends.

“But I don’t expect we will play well at all – so I don’t think it will be a problem,” she said with a laugh.

‘Each person can decide’

Some bars such as Berlin’s Tante Käthe have decided to show the games, but want to use the heightened exposure created by the tournament to shed light on human rights abuses, for instance by hanging a photo exhibition showing the poor living conditions of Nepalese guest workers who helped build Qatar’s
stadiums.

READ ALSO: Lufthansa’s German World Cup plane carries ‘DiversityWins’ slogan

Others have pledged to show the event.

Around the corner from Fargo, Salama El-Khatib, the owner and manager of the eponymous Salama’s Bar, said “each person can decide for themselves” if they want to watch.

“I’ll be showing all the games, from when it starts at 11am to 8pm, no exceptions,” El-Khatib told AFP.
El-Khatib, who came to Berlin from the Middle East to study in the 1980s before opening his bar in 1996, said “questions of human rights (in Qatar) were discussed often” by him and his customers, but he had not considered a boycott.

Salama said “five or six regulars” will skip the event, “but other guests will be here”.

“I find the discussion (is happening) too late — we needed to have it four years ago. To discuss the boycott two weeks before (the event) is senseless — we needed to have it a long time ago.”

Tune into The Local’s Germany in Focus podcast on Friday to hear this article’s author Dan Wighton talk about how people in Germany view the Qatar World Cup.

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Germany’s once fearsome World Cup reputation in tatters

Perhaps the most damning indictment in the inquest into Germany's second consecutive exit from a World Cup at the group stage came from 23-year-old forward Kai Havertz, who said simply, "I don't think we're a tournament team anymore".

Germany's once fearsome World Cup reputation in tatters

With four World Cups and three European championship wins, Germany’s reputation for turning up when it truly matters was once so well-earned, there is a word for it in German: Turniermannschaft, or “tournament team”.

After Hansi Flick’s team crashed out in Qatar, having never really recovered from a stunning opening 2-1 defeat to Japan, that reputation is in tatters.

Germany crashed out four years in Russia and also went out in the last 16 in last year’s European Championship.

So just 18 months away from hosting the next Euros in 2024, they are in the unfamiliar position of being outsiders for a tournament held on home soil.

The 4-2 win against Costa Rica on Thursday was too little, too late. Germany needed Spain to at least draw with Japan but the Spanish went down 2-1 and Germany lost out on goal difference.

As the dejected squad boarded a plane from Doha back to Frankfurt on Friday, German Football Association (DFB) President Bernd Neuendorf refused to guarantee that Flick’s job was secure, while hinting that the root cause of the problems ran much deeper.

Neuendorf announced a series of inquiries into “the development of the national team and our football since 2018”.

The DFB would “look ahead” with a focus on “developing perspectives (for) the Euros in our own country.”

Germany's players (from left) Armel Bella-Kotchap, Kai Havertz, David Raum, Christian Günter, Leon Goretzka and Niklas Süle sit on the bench after the match against Costa Rica in Qatar.

Germany’s players (from left) Armel Bella-Kotchap, Kai Havertz, David Raum, Christian Günter, Leon Goretzka and Niklas Süle sit on the bench after the match against Costa Rica in Qatar. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

Flick, who said on Thursday he wanted to stay in his job but knew “it isn’t up to me”, called for an overhaul of the junior development system.

Starkly, he recognised that Jamal Musiala, one of the few bright sparks in Qatar, “was not trained in Germany, he was trained in England”. The Bayern Munich teenager represented England at youth level before switching to Germany.

‘End of a football nation’

Germany’s newspapers roundly criticised the team’s performance with tabloid Bild lamenting that: “On this December 1st, 2022, we witnessed the end of a once great and proud football nation.”

The lukewarm reaction to the tournament from German fans should also concern German football administrators.

The team’s backtracking on the planned “OneLove” rainbow armband, designed as a protest at Qatar’s laws on homosexuality, went down badly at home.

An average of 14.7 million tuned in to watch the three games — well down on the 25 million four years ago.

The German public has not fallen out of love with football completely — 17.9 million tuned in to see Germany’s 2-1 loss to England in the women’s Euros in July.

‘We lack German efficiency’

National set-up director Oliver Bierhoff, who scored two goals in the Euro 1996 final when Germany last won the tournament, lamented the wastefulness in front of goal.

Germany dominated possession against Japan but missed countless chances.

The side “lacked the German efficiency that we’ve always had”, Bierhoff said.

Jurgen Klinsmann, a 1990 World Cup winner and former Germany coach, said the side “didn’t deserve to go through” while recognising the short turnaround to the 2024 Euros “may be a good thing, helping them to re-focus quickly”.

Another World Cup winner, Bastian Schweinsteiger, slammed the side’s poor defence, highlighting that Germany has not kept a clean sheet at the World Cup since the 2014 final it gloriously won in Rio de Janeiro.

“If you don’t defend well, you won’t advance and you won’t win,” Schweinsteiger said.

Captain Manuel Neuer, 36, said “today we did everything that was asked of us”, while striker Niclas Fuellkrug said Germany was eliminated “because we fell asleep a little bit against Japan.”

Joshua Kimmich hinted at deeper problems, saying “we can’t always talk about bad luck” while Real Madrid defender Antonio Ruediger insisted the “hard reality we find ourselves in” was to do more with attitude than talent.

“We have plenty of talent, but we need more than just talent. We need a little bit of greed, a little bit of filth, that’s what we are missing.

The once steely masters of tournament football had, he said, become “a very, very friendly team”.

By Daniel WIGHTON

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