In light of the current European migrant crisis, Bayern Munich recently announced plans to build a €1 million new training camp in Germany for incoming refugee children. It is reported that in this year alone, Germany is preparing to accept 800,000 refugees, with the ability to take 500,000 a year thereafter.
The Bayern training camp will provide food; football equipment; sports facilities and German lessons. A high proportion of those incoming are from the Arab world, from Iraq and Syria most notably, leaving their homelands out of desperation and despondency due to conflicts. It is definitely believed footballing measures will, in any event, aid their integration into German society.
The plans have been lauded by the European press. Some see it is a genuine, moral gesture from Bayern. The cynic may deem it as opportunistic CSR. Others see this as also a political move, with the powers-that-be in German football striking a blow towards far-right football support in the country, as clubs seek to nurture a more tolerant and inclusive culture than before. Though these elements are of worthy of consideration, the last sentiment does strike an especial chord.
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Bayern CEO Karl Heniz-Ruminneigge recently expressed worries over the rise of the Premier League, with its new television deal set to galvanize club spending power to attract more players than ever before.
However this threat is not just capitalist, it is also cultural and social. England as a destination in and of itself can already attract some of the best talent in world football, especially with the lure of London, but socially, England is largely seen as having an accepting and pluralist footballing culture. Immigrant players have made the Premier League what it is today and are widely accepted by fans, and this aura of acceptance continues to attract more talent.
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The Bundesliga as a whole, with Bayern its main attraction, realises a similar social culture would be needed to be further fostered in order to compete with England.
However, I think there is more to it for Bayern. What the migrant waves create for a lot of European football are new opportunities. Bayern will, in my view, see these training camps as places where they can also help develop, scout and sign the next generation of talent from which Bayern and the national team can benefit from.
It is all about the sociology of sport. The soul of football is, should be and has always been found among the disempowered, impoverished and disenfranchised. It is from those formative conditions where stars are born. Football remains a route out of poverty; encourages competition; binds a community; and helps channel undisclosed desires and rages into inspiration and productivity.
For this new dislocated diaspora, Football remains a code of what freedom of expression, is really all about. This is dichotomous to a view of how nowadays, especially in England, many youth are spoiled by the luxuries of privilege, neutering their competitive spirits, with even those that do make it being ridden of incentives to carry on developing, due to their high-bracket wages and overrated praise. In this sense, the migrant crisis re-introduces a new hope for the true roots of Football to shine through.
Immigrants, especially the most vulnerable, have in the past shown great willingness to overturn any perceived disadvantages into advantages; given their increased hunger to succeed in a country where they take nothing for granted.
This grassroots mechanism Bayern are developing can help foster that hunger. Do not be surprised if at some point down the line we see new German-Syrian or German-Iraqi footballers excelling in the domestic and national leagues as German Turks have done. Bayern Munich's move signals that they are making a statement of control over this talent development phase. Though Germany remains a case study, such a phenomenon may also be seen across the Continent.
Turks are the largest ethnic group in Germany, with their population around three million. During the Wirtschaftswunder, or the "Economic miracle" Germany experienced after World War II, Turks moved to Germany for labour purposes. Eventually many settled permanently in Germany.
However, the German government originally conceived these Immigrants would only be guest workers, in other words, only work in Germany for a limited period of time before being repatriated. Due to this policy, Germany did not take many measures to help Turkish immigrants integrate.
Government apathy, far-right fascism, and Islamophobia later brewed in Germany as the immigrants grew and settled, and this meant many Turks felt increasingly isolated and alienated. Classism and discrimination from a systemic and individual level were profuse.
This matrix held back Turkish social progress as a whole and was very much the reason behind the Turks having lower socio-economic statuses and higher rates of poverty. In the 1990s, there were increased levels of hate crimes against Turks, and a far-right consensus that Turks should not be granted Citizenship.
This led to, especially for earlier generations of immigrants, a responsive desire to themselves become more insular, holding onto their Turkish identity further and refusal to integrate widely into what they felt was a rejecting German mainstream.
However, in later generations that followed, those social and attitudinal barriers eroded more, with many German-Turks feeling a fused affinity to both their German and Turkish heritages. This led to more Turks being involved with Sport.
It was from this backdrop, that the German football team now boasts the likes of Mesut Özil, or İlkay Gündoğan, or Nuri Şahin - some of the most talented footballers in the country, all of whom are of Turkish origin. They all broke through in the past decade or so. It also remains true that such talent did exist but for the patterns of discrimination and disadvantages from either a systemic and/or footballing level, it was not nurtured.
In contrast to the colder response Turkish immigrants initially suffered, it could be said, at least from a footballing level, that if clubs can take such initiatives such as Bayern it will only accelerate the potential for new talent to emerge. Özil himself had risen through the grassroots. Therefore if, Angela Merkel's supposed pro-immigration stance actually materializes into wider society, it can herald positive signs for German football.
Football is an expression of your culture as much as it is an expression of your ability. This hybrid style of flair Özil brings is anachronistic to the old German style of tactical discipline, precision, and rudimentary efficiency. Yet it was this fusion of flair and efficiency that led Germany to their fourth World Cup. It was and is, undoubtedly welcome. Immigrants bring new ideas and styles to the football sphere.
In any event, it is easy to forget football has always been about migration anyway, emphasised more in recent times. Footballers have to migrate to Europe nowadays to be considered among the greats. Over two-thirds of footballers at last year's World Cup had migrant origins. Zinedine Zidane, arguably the greatest footballer Europe has ever seen, is the son of Algerian Muslim immigrants.
Therefore, one thing the migrant crisis guarantees for football is the potential for new original waves of talent to emerge, that will merge their own unique cultural styles with the European footballing infrastructure, encouragement and guidance to succeed.
In this sense, however capitalist their motives may be, we can welcome the steps that football clubs are taking to help sublimate the process.