In 2006, when Germany hosted the FIFA World Cup, football fans around the globe saw a different German people. With Germany flags waving and fans getting teary-eyed during the national anthem, the sentiments were clear. This sport gave Germans the licence to be proud of their nationality again – a trait that had long been absent from the public sphere in a country where the word “national” has all but positive connotations.
Now, the European Championships have rekindled feelings of national identity. As a warm-up to the games, fans gathered for the Champions League Finals between the German Bundesliga’s Bayern München and the English Premier League’s Chelsea. While not all of the Piefke present were Bayern fans, nor all the Brits fans of Chelsea, the affiliations were mostly based on partisan patriotism. When Bayern finally lost to Chelsea on one failed penalty kick, the Germans dispersed, sighing heavily. “It’s always the same,” a girl from Munich sobbed. “We’re the better team, but lose because of bad luck.”
The strong ties fans feel to national teams (and for their country’s league teams) are common in sports, and are often observed during the Olympics. But nationalism in sports can also be damaging.
On 26 May, at a test game between Serbia and Spain, Serbian trainer Sinisa Mihajlovic sent 20-year-old Adem Ljajic home for not singing the Serbian national anthem. The new trainer had made all players sign a behavioural form, stating their obligation to sing along. Ljajic, who will now be permanently excluded fron Serbia’s national team, said he won’t sing the anthem in future games, for personal reasons.
Is national pride such a question of image that it must be made obligatory, even for those whose job it is to play a game well? There is beauty in collective solidarity, but it can go too far.