World Cup 2014: Those accused of racism can't simply be screamed at

Three high-profile incidents have come to light during the tournament

Is there anything we of the age of Twitter, daily live blogs and soulless “click bait” love more than a racist?

LIVE: Follow today's latest news, including Netherlands v Chile, Australia v Spain, Cameroon v Brazil and Croatia v Mexico

The question is worth asking when, two games into their World Cup campaign, Germany has already been beset with three separate racism scandals.

The most recent one even involved that most prized jewel of social media’s valiant soldiers of equality: a Nazi!

To recap: the gentleman who invaded the pitch in a state of undress during Germany’s match with Ghana was immediately accused of having the logo of the SS hidden in the writing he had scrawled across his chest. Not only that, but he had the initials “HH” which, as one German paper knowingly tooted, is famously Neo-Nazi code for “Heil Hitler”.

These fascists have regressed a little since the days of Enigma, it seems.

The man in question was neither, as was reported in the Guardian, “a German fan”, nor a Nazi. He was a bartender from Poland, with the ridiculous plan of publicising his e-mail address in order to raise money for his flight home after the World Cup. So, in any case, reads his own account, and the report of various Brazilian media outlets.

It is pretty believable. The alleged SS logo is, on closer inspection, a double four. The same e-mail address written on his back shows that ostensibly to be the case. With that in mind, the “HH” becomes a little less incriminating. The whole script is indeed a gmail address.

This was the most laughable of all three racism scandals. The man in question was no doubt a touch eccentric. He no doubt regrets having not checked the democratic clarity of his handwriting prior to baring his chest for the world, but he was rather swiftly absolved. We could all have a good laugh at both his and the reactionary Twittersphere’s expense.

Less amusing were the other two racism scandals to involve German football. The first came during Nigeria’s 0-0 draw with Iran, when ARD commentator Steffen Simon – a man famed for his catastrophic propensity to offend – claimed that the Iranians were “Southerners, and therefore not very well organised”.

It was a misjudged comment at best, a disgracefully lazy lapse into racism from an extremely smug individual at worst. Simon was roundly decried for “salon racism”, and forced to offer an apology later in the game.

Germany’s indignation when faced with Simon’s offensive comments is worth remembering when it comes to the fallout over the third racism scandal.

Two fans were pictured during the same game between Germany and Ghana smiling at the camera. Both were crudely blacked up, both wearing t-shirts on which they had scribbled the word “Ghana”.


Those individuals were rightly condemned, and Fifa are said to be looking into the issue. Like our streaking friend, the accidental Nazi, though, the blacked up fans were reported to be German, when their nationality was both uncertain and irrelevant.

That put the German populist media on the defensive. Naturally. When your target audience – Germany fans – are being accused of racism, you defend them. They found out that the men were probably Swiss, and sat back, content that the German fans had been wrongly accused of racism. The rest of the German press barely reported it at all. It is a great shame, because, whether they are Swiss, German or from the mIsle of Man, their embarrassing little stunt is something which could have done with more thoughtful coverage.  

Blacking up is astonishingly uncontroversial in Germany. Awareness of its historical significance, its inherent connection with a grotesque and ingrained vein of racism, is not particularly high. For many, it is no different to donning a wig or a applying some lipstick. The staggeringly unfunny German impressionist Matze Knop blacks up almost every week to impersonate Bayern and Brazil defender Dante Bonfim.

That is not to excuse anyone who chooses to do it. There are enough Germans who do recognise that it is unacceptable to render those who refuse to a stubbornly backward bunch. But they are a bunch who will not be roundly condemned in the manner that Steffen Simon was, or in the manner that they would be in countries with a larger black community.

The deeper sociological reasons for Germany’s apparent lack of concern with blacking up go beyond the capabilities of a mere football writer. What is clear to all and sundry, though, is that the issue needs greater debate. And more considered debate.

Naming and shaming those who indulge in lazy racism in a mere 140 characters is all well and good when, like with Steffen Simon, the offence is clear to everybody. Then, the outrage, and the immediate, democratic clip around the ear is, in fact, constructive.

But you can’t clip a general viewpoint round the ear, however pig-headed it may seem. You can’t simply scream racist at those fans and hope they will be dealt with accordingly. Until the perception of blacking up in the German media – and, no doubt, in that of many other countries – changes, then a more constructive and patient debate about this issue is needed.

There are more considered voices in Germany who had the opportunity to initiate such a debate this week, and most failed to do so. But so did those who merely cursed loudly about racist German fans. Racism is largely borne of ignorance. Let us then seek to understand and communicate, rather than accuse and condemn.

sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor