Indications of xenophobia can often be very subtle. It can be that slight prejudice that one has against someone of another ethnicity, prejudice that won’t ever rise to the sea level of your conscience, but it’s there, maybe affecting some views or minor actions you do without even knowing it.
The case of hidden xenophobia and hidden racism is as tricky to see and detect. It tends to be the sly actions of media that in the end makes it obvious, much like English media’s unwarranted agenda against Raheem Sterling, or like Swedish media’s very sly agenda against Zlatan Ibrahimovic, something that has roots in the Swedish nationalist society where Zlatan is seen as non-Swedish, even though he was born in Sweden and has lived in the country his whole life.
When people feel discontent with something, they perhaps blame it on those who don’t have strong links to said nation. And you know what? Football is no exception, it seems.
Let me paint a picture. Germany lose against Mexico with 1-0. The game was one of the worst performances die Mannschaft has ever produced in a World Cup and their fans are livid, as is German media. The lion part of the whole team produced a sub-par performance and the criticism they get is nothing less than deserved.
The players that are being questioned in media, even scapegoated, are leader Toni Kroos, who had a dreadful game and lacked his normal passing abilities on the ball. Joshua Kimmich, a player that kept bombing forward, even though it was visible and obvious that it had became a big problem. Thomas Müller is being ripped apart by German media, and international alike, for his performance, which was “One of the worst (performances) ever in German World Cup history.”
The German people, and many others, are demanding that Joachim Löw benches Kroos and Kimmich against Sweden as they are perilous to the German chances. They were “lazy,” it’s being said, even though both were the first back to defend when Mexico scored.
Sounds like a fantasy, right?
Well, let me paint you another picture. Germany lose against Mexico. German media has chosen its scapegoat and it’s unsurprisingly Mesut Özil who’s being slaughtered in media and by the public. While only creating the second most chances on the pitch and despite being the first non-defender to defend against Hirving Lozano’s counter, he is imminently given the role as a scapegoat for the German failure in defence and attack. The public is fuelled by media and craves that Löw must bench Özil, because they can’t have his laziness affect the others.
Does this sound like a mere daydream? Does this sound like an illusion, a reverie to shield you from the rough world? No. Because this was the actual reaction to the German loss and it seems, just a theory, that has become systematised by media and by the public, it has become part of the national agenda to blame Özil whenever the team doesn’t do as well as one is used to.
I would even claim that this has gone from being a theory and has now become a fact- Özil is always scapegoated, even though he rarely produces a truly sub-par performance. He almost always covers the most ground, produces the lion part of all German chances. He’s no leader on the pitch, but that’s not his role. His role is to produce chances for the others to finish. Which he has always done and continues to do, but to no avail.
Media and the public does not care about that. They’ve found their eternal scapegoat and they stick with it. I would however like to present another theory: That the scapegoating of Özil has to do with xenophobia and hidden racism.
We’ve seen it before. There are, as I mentioned before, cases where racism and xenophobia seem to be a main theme. I am of course talking about Sterling’s case in England where nothing he does is good enough, where whatever he produces seems to overshadow by the fact that he’s young, black and successful.
Well, Özil has Turkish parents, but is born in Germany, has lived there for most of his life, but still isn’t seen as German by some. Why?
Another example of this is Ibrahimovic in Sweden. Members of the Swedish nationalist party Sverigedemokraterna, has continuously had an obvious agenda against Zlatan, claiming that: “Just because you’re a Swedish citizen, it doesn’t mean you’re Swedish. That’s not how it works!”
This is an obvious attempt at distancing themselves from Zlatan’s more arrogant and cocky nature, something that has propelled him into many Swedish and European hearts. It seems like, no matter how well he does on the field for Sweden- he will never be a Swede, because he doesn’t “seem” Swedish and isn’t identifiable with the national identity.
One might also claim that these kinds of players, who are the children of immigrants or even immigrants themselves, need to fight much harder to get the same recognition as the “German” members of the national team.
In an interview with German newspaper Zeit, Junior Professor in Sport, Integration and Migration Tina Nobis said that, apart from for example Heidi Klum (who also has dual citizenship), Özil and Ilkay Gündogan must fight to be accepted by the German public, while the German-looking Klum is instantly accepted and even lauded for her commitment. There seems to be an obvious difference between these cases, and the only plausible reason is ethnicity.
The photo with Turkish Recep Tayyip Erdoğan obviously did not help. Most frowned at the picture and that was a very relevant and decent reaction, footballers have a responsibility towards their fans and the public to act as respectable as possible. However, Tina Nobis claims that this was in no way the sole reason to Özil’s scapegoat status after the game against Mexico.
Özil must go further than others to be seen as German and to be a part of the German identity. He also must do more to be accepted. It’s an obvious case of racism, I would claim. It’s the definition of racism- “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.”
As I started off with, this is a very subtle way of showing xenophobia. Özil must do more, run further, produce more and be better than any German to be accepted, or even to be seen as a legitimate part of the German national team and the German national identity. It’s not obvious, it rarely is, but it’s hidden and tends to even be institutionalised. People claim: “that’s not racism” or “to call that xenophobia is absurd,” but that contributes to the institutionalisation of the very same.
If Özil plays and Germany struggles against Sweden and South Korea, which does seem like a possibility, we all already know who media will target. That is a sign that something is wrong. It is a clear sign of an agenda. And when the target is ethnically dissimilar, we should at least contemplate the possibility of it being connected to an underlying institutionalised xenophobia.
By Axel Falk.