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Soccer's Role in Germany's Future

By Nikolas Foster

Soccer championships seem to bring out the German identity debate. Who doesn't remember the sudden proliferation of black-, red- and gold-clad fans, cars, windowsills and even hairstyles during the 2006 World Cup? Commentators around the world saw it as the country's chance to get comfortable with its national identity.

During last month's European Under-21 soccer championship in Sweden, another display caused quite a stir. This time it was not the overwhelming show of the German colors, but the names of players on the German national team: Khedira, Özil, Castro, Dejagah, Aogo - all names that many Germans still have trouble considering their own.

What is German? It's a heated debate. The late 1990s brought calls for a German "Leitkultur;" a defining, leading culture serving as an anchor for all Germans and especially as a point of reference for immigrants coming to Germany. Debate still simmers about whether Germany should be an immigration nation or not. And the recent resolution by the Christian Democrats (CDU) to make German the official language of Germany has also sparked controversy.

But the success of Germany's multi-ethnic team - Germany won the tournament in a 4-0 shootout against England - might elevate this debate. Immigrant children are twice as likely to drop out of school, and some argue that they are responsible for more than their share of crime. Job applicants with German names are ten times more likely to be invited to an interview than applicants with Turkish names. So the triumph of a young and determined team, whose captain's name is Khedira, may work against those stereotypes. It might also allow immigrant adolescents to follow the paths of these role models, whether in sports or elsewhere.

Germany needs these discussions, and not only to come to terms with the troubling parts of its past. In a time when low birthrates impede the success and viability of the German society, an inclusive discussion about the role of foreign-born Germans and their children is more than necessary. Maybe soccer, in its own way, could contribute to Germany's future.

Nikolas Foster is a graduate student in Energy and Environmental Policy and International Economics at the Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC.

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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Johns Hopkins University.

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