Berlin | On New Year’s Day German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “skeptical” concerning pleas from some Green Party politicians to ban Iran from the World Cup finals (see Dec 15). Flames of controversy were lit last month when Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made anti-Israel comments and publicly denied the Holocaust. Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany as in six other European Union nations. “One would have to reconsider if the World Cup were held in Iran,” said the chancellor, “but the Iranian team can’t influence the comments of their president.” Yet the team is suffering for Ahmadinejad’s remarks, writes Gabriele Marcotti for the Times (London). Romania turned down the Iran FA’s request for a friendly; Spain and Switzerland reportedly have not responded. Bayern Munich, however, have agreed to a friendly on Jan 13 against Iranian club side Persepolis. Bayern are on winter break in Dubai from Jan 6–16. “I am in favor of people talking,” says Bayern manager Uli Hoeness. “Those who talk with each other don’t fight wars.”
In other World Cup buildup, National Public Radio has reported on the influx of sex workers predicted for the finals. Unlike previous reporting, however, which featured more prurient aspects, the NPR story quotes those concerned for the women’s well-being. Henny Engels, executive director of the National Council of German Women’s Organizations, reads from a letter the group has sent to national-team players in Germany.
[W]e know [the World Cup] is not going to be a big party for many women, for women who have been forced into prostitution. Therefore, we are asking you to make it clear that you—especially you who are considered male role models—do not want to see your sport linked in any way to these crimes.
Thus far, Arsenal regular and Germany back-up goalkeeper Jens Lehmann has responded positively, with little reported reaction from teammates. Prostitution was legalized in Germany two years ago; a Turkish entrepreneur now has opened a luxury brothel in Berlin’s Wilmersdorf district, three S-Bahn stops from the Olympic Stadium, site of the final. On top of the building, a large red phallus blows in the wind.
German newsweekly Der Spiegel comments on expansion of World Cup hype machinery since the nation last hosted the event in 1974. To foreign viewers, the signs were evident during the telecast of the draw (see Dec 14), an indication that Americans do not have a monopoly on bad taste. Wolfgang Niersback, vice-president of the organizing committee, acknowledges that “we could just as easily have held the final draw in my office, but that probably wouldn’t have been what the public wants to see.” Thirty-two years ago, Der Spiegel writes, the show was 45 minutes, compared to 150 last month. Franz Beckenbauer wore white socks with his suit. A bulletin board displayed country names. Der Spiegel‘s observations also fall hard on the “smooth and polished face of FIFA.” “FIFA’s employees,” writes Juergen Dahlkamp, “look more like they work at the stock exchange than for world soccer’s governing body. Nowadays, FIFA—complete with its army of lawyers, marketing experts and PR specialists—sells soccer the way others sell microchips or automobiles.” The deadly seriousness with which politicians are taking the event appears in the debate over whether, in seeming violation of the German constitution, the army should handle security for the World Cup. German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble advocates tasking the army with relief of police forces for the month-long finals. The 1949 constitution, however, mandates strict separation between army and police to avoid any hints of a militarized state.