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The season for atonement
Andrei Markovits, professor of comparative politics and German studies at the University of Michigan and co-author of Offside: Soccer and American Exceptionalism, goes further. By dint of a prevailing conservatism that had banned English terms such as "corner kick" and "touchline," German football authorities, according to Markovits, integrated seamlessly with the Nazi program. "[I]n Nazism, the DFB found a good ally, a soulful affinity" (Jack Bell, "German Federation Admits to Nazi Past," New York Times, 20 September). Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, in his 2002 book, Tor! The Story of German Football, already had found evidence supporting such conclusions. In the chapter titled "Angst and Anschluss: Football under the Nazis," Hesse-Lichtenberger writes that as early as April 1933 football authorities pronounced in kicker that "members of the Jewish race, and persons who have turned out to be followers of the Marxist movement, are deemed unacceptable" (80). The Nazification of German football clubs thus preceded by several weeks the official government order to expel Jews from welfare organizations, youth groups and sporting clubs. German international Julius Hirsch, a longtime member of FV Karlsruhe, and thousands of other Jews were forced to leave their clubs. Hirsch ultimately was murdered at Auschwitz. Sepp Herberger, manager of the side that defeated Hungary in the 1954 World Cup final—what Markovits calls "the most important event in Germany becoming the Federal Republic" and depicted in Das Wunder von Bern—also had ties to the Nazi past, but his ultimate allegiance seems unclear in Hesse-Lichtenberger's account.
Moving forward rapidly to the present angst-ridden period—"Everyone is afraid" is how one Munich resident described the pre-election feeling (James Meek, "Berlin Blues," The Guardian, 15 September)—political realities suggest a period of Margaret Thatcher–style benefit-cutting. Unemployment in the unified republic stands at 11.5 percent (20 percent in eastern Germany). Population growth is 0 percent. Economic growth, similarly, is stagnant. In football, one team from the former East Germany, Hansa Rostock, remains in the Bundesliga's top flight. "Football has thus become a metaphor for the failure of the united Germany," writes the Times of London's Owen Slot ("East Germans Try to Arrest Decline by Bringing Back Player Production Line," 16 September). "[E]ast cannot match west economically and its football clubs cannot match up either." Football proved of no help to Schröder. (Covering all bases, Schröder is said to support three clubs: the working-class Borussia Dortmund, his hometown Hanover 96 and FC Cottbus from the east.) Plans to hold the election in September 2006, in the glow of a successful World Cup, went awry when events forced the polling forward by one year. Manager of the German national team, Jürgen Klinsmann, finds himself cast about, too, by uncertainties resulting from changes he has brought to the side: a different training regimen and his own decision to run much of team business from his home outside Los Angeles (see Rob Hughes, "The Big Interview: Jürgen Klinsmann," The Sunday Times [U.K.], 2 October). He has been summoned to an emergency meeting with the Bundesliga president the weekend of 22–23 October. He will be called to account.ZINES
Friendly approach to the game
Update: Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger, author of Tor! The Story of German Football, writes that the two-pronged juggernaut of kicker and Sport Bild have, until recently, discouraged new entrants into the German sports mediascape ("Publish and Be Damned," ESPNSoccernet.com, 25 September 2005). With anticipation growing for the World Cup finals, however, a Sports Illustrated–like glossy, Champs, and the monthly Player are also in production.COUNTDOWNS
Reprise: Soccer as ballet
In Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano writes of the árbitro: "The only one obliged to run the entire game without pause, this interloper . . . breaks his back galloping like a horse. And in return for his pains, the crowd howls for his head."
Our disgust transcends the level of individuals and attaches itself to the complicity of media and society in having created the demon "big soccer," the phantasm that appears to delude many into believing that these telecast spectacles actually merit such attention. We have always regarded the football pitch as a stage, illuminated by klieg lights. The events on stage are significant, but carrying menace toward Frisk or the other stage players exhibits a type of dementia—like accosting an actor who plays Hamlet for his indecision.
In this theater of the absurd, increasingly we admire the stolid referees for their small conclave of sanity, for their efficiency and somewhat wooden gaits. They keep note of infringements, hands gripping tiny pencils. They enter and exit the field as one, flags and other accoutrements tucked to the side. One might expect them to look self-conscious or embarrassed, but they carry a certain cachet. The match cannot take place without them. They get to shake everyone's hand, the gilded hands of Beckhams and Raúls.
We are not sure that Frisk fits this impressionistic view, for he looked a glamorous accessory despite his full-time job with Swedish insurance giant Folksam. But his life demonstrates heart and commitment. He has six children—concern over which apparently prompted his retirement—and gave of his time last year to participate with UEFA and the International Committee of the Red Cross in a mission to war-torn Sierra Leone. He and other well-known referees were asked to show that the rule of law has value by officiating a match and visiting families long separated by civil conflict.
We would be naive to think that football referees do not exert control outweighing that of officials in other sports. As the ongoing corruption case in Germany illustrates, a referee's integrity is all-important. A second German official has now been arrested on a match-fixing allegation, following the notorious confessions of 25-year-old Robert Hoyzer, who claims to have fixed several results on goadings of Croatian brothers Filip, Milan and Ante Sapina. At the Cafe King in Berlin's Charlottenburg district, Hoyzer's misdeeds allegedly were purchased for £46,000 and a plasma-screen TV ("Hoyzer's Whistle-Blowing Echoes across Europe," Daily Telegraph, 11 March).The timing of the inquiry, said in February to be occupying 33 investigators, has proven inconvenient with the 2006 World Cup finals 15 months away (Paul Newman, "Whistle-Blowers and Fixers: Scandal That Casts a Shadow on the World Cup," The Independent [U.K.], 9 February). For reunified Germany, staging the spectacle proves a time for examining history and plumbing the country's soul, if nations have souls. For example, the Nazi past will be confronted at the Olympiastadion Berlin, the venue for the World Cup final. It has been refurbished to include a museum and plaques to memorialize the 1936 Olympics' glorification of Aryanism. One plaque marks Hitler's Fuehrerloge,
The mug of Robert Hoyzer, of whom Hamburger Abendblatt writes: "He has a fashion model's body, great looks and could be mistaken for the brother of actor Richard Gere."
The scandal involving referees has recalled the Bundesliga bribery cases of 1971. In that inquiry, judge Hans Kindermann determined that 53 players from seven teams had taken money to fix games. The league suffered a large drop in attendance, teams lost their licenses, lives were destroyed. Yet Kindermann himself felt the game had been purged, although by the late 1990s he again had concerns: "Soccer has become a dance around the Golden Calf" ("1971 Scandal Nearly Ruined German," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 4 February). Questions exist over whether sports, with its excesses, should be a talisman for a reconstituted German body politic. Die Zeit writes that footballers "are the true heroes in these dark days" (quoted in Luke Harding, "The Game's Up," The Guardian, 4 February), yet FAZ keeps the more than five million German unemployed in full view:
The game has become a lifestyle event, played in new and renovated stadiums, and the league has good reason to hope that the fans will not be distracted by this winter's events. The attempt to use soccer in the service of an image-boosting campaign does carry certain risks given the cast of shady sideshow characters and con men hanging on the edges of the game. As a result, it does little good to paint an excessively positive picture of Germany using the colors of the sport called soccer. (Roland Zorn, "The Wrong Player for the PR Game," 4 February)
We are left grappling with an unknown: the inner life of a referee. A professor of organizational psychology at Lancaster University in the U.K. groups the job with police officers, traffic wardens, teachers and tax inspectors. The jobs are all vital, yet the practitioners are natural targets for criticism (Terry Kirby, "Position Vacant: Applicant Must Have Thick Skin," The Independent [U.K.], 14 March).
Fortunately, while we can only marvel at the inner steel of those like Frisk or Pierluigi Collina, we know of two currently practicing referees who bring their self-doubts and peeves into public view. Aaron Corman writes from Portland, Oregon, in Planet Soccer: his extended narratives are peppered with accounts of officiating indoor and outdoor games, including interesting game situations. As a side note, he also maintains a weekly social calendar more complex than what we have managed in the last 15 years. His musings are leading him to a trip around the world, watching soccer and keeping notes on culture. Second there is RefBlog, a harder-edged diary by a writer willing to ponder the shortcomings of his fellow man. He writes of his fiancée, for example, taking a hard shot to the stomach. When a shoe comes off her foot from force of impact, he is reminded of Charlie Brown being undressed by a line drive: "She didn't get knocked over, her legs didn't jerk around—it was just like there was a spring on the bottom of her foot that sent the shoe flying."
He imagines a series of commercials to promote a website of his imagination: soccerisnotlife.com. The idea is, by showing mundane examples of people violating the social contract—one man, for example, goes incendiary while accusing a grocery-store cashier of making a one-penny mistake in pricing lettuce—to point out the absurd behavior of players on the pitch, who sometimes take the sport much too seriously.
At the end of the commercial, the following words appear on a black screen: "What if we treated other people like we did referees?"
Update: Interviews with 720 women "proved the incontestable sex appeal of the referees," according to the Italian Institute of Social Marketing (Rob Hughes, "Final Whistle for Star Referee," International Herald Tribune, 31 August 2005). Collina stands out, according to one female psychologist, for his face and legs. This unnamed academic states that "[t]he referee has a magnitude of virility that the players, with their ear rings, their bleached hair and their showgirl poses have progressively lost."
The state history museum in Leipzig, Stadtgeschichtliches Museum Leipzig, and Sportmuseum Leipzig are cooperating on an exhibition to open 3 March 2006, "Lord of the Rules: The Football Referee." The exhibit will include old whistles and such: "Beginning with the historical roots of the role of the referee in antiquity, the exhibition presents milestones in football history, moving onto futuristic visions such as the [micro]chip-ball or the totally . . . technologically monitored match."
In six hours of conversation . . . , Sing never once mentioned Germany's victims. He never denied that Germans had done terrible things, and he never offered a defence of Nazism ("It's nonsense, just as Communism is nonsense," he said), but the main victims of Hitler he was aware of were the German soldiers.