25 July 2018

“Madness is something rare in individuals — but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages, it is the rule.”

 

These were the words of German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche on the topic of patriotism. It is a topic that remains contentious to this day and never far away from the headlines in our increasingly chaotic world. But there are occasions when patriotism can take on much healthier forms, as a welcoming national pride bringing openness rather than superiority and tribalism. This proved to be the case when Germany played host to the FIFA World Cup in 2006, a tournament fondly remembered by visitors and organisers alike.

 

Following the darkest era in Germany’s history, patriotism and nationalism have been associated with racist ideology and one social group’s notions of supremacy over an other. For fear of history repeating itself, displays of patriotism were frowned upon and quickly quelled. As the World Cup approached, debates over flying the German flag re-emerged – and the opportunity presented itself to both reinterpret this symbol of a nation and present a new image of Germany to the onlooking world. What followed was a month-long festival of football, with fans from all over the globe converging on their thoroughly modern, hospitable hosts. As the then Austrian Football Association President, Friedrich Stickler remarked, “The world’s view of Germany has definitely changed.”

 

It was not just the image of the German nation which took an upturn thanks to the 2006 World Cup however, but also that of its football. For many Europeans, Germany is their main rival, for historical reasons but also for what has occurred on the field of play. Often they have been cast as tournament-villains due to certain ugly incidents, style of play criticisms and accusations of luck or downright cheating. Going into 2006, this trend appeared to persist thanks to a hoax about a corrupted bidding process that led to Germany winning the chance to host the tournament. Naturally, this did nothing to calm the nerves of German people regarding just what type of show they were about to see and display to the world.

 

However, on 9th June 2006 when the opening game kicked off, it was a sign of things to come. As Germany’s unfancied side took the field to face Costa Rica in a thrilling, pulsating encounter, the home team was young and inexperienced and, in contrast to German squads of previous tournaments, comprised of players from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. They approached the game with an uncharacteristic flair and vibrancy, running out 4-2 winners over their Central American opponents and scoring spectacular goals in the process. This was a theme that would continue throughout the tournament as Germany unexpectedly progressed to the semi-finals, winning plaudits along the way thanks to their youthful, fearless and exciting brand of football.

 

Off the field, the adulation continued to pour in for the manner in which the tournament was hosted. The cultural stereotype of efficiency was apparent to all who visited, but also frequently noted was the friendliness and welcoming attitude of the hosts, dispelling previously held misconceptions of being overly serious. “I’m both stunned and moved by the atmosphere and the friendliness,” one visiting fan remarked. Another added, “Everyone seemed to believe Germany was on show and wanted to show the world that Germany was a good country, and frankly they’ve succeeded in that.” These sentiments were perfectly in keeping with the tournament’s official slogan Die Welt zu Gast bei Freunden – A time to make friends. 

 

This article appeared in FOOTBALL4GOOD Magazine Issue 7/July 2018. Read more stories here from the field of football for good here.

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