For quite a while all went surprisingly well on the evening of June 17, 2021, as commentators on German television station ZDF had just finished reporting on the match between Austria and the Netherlands and they had featured a short summary of the day’s other score-lines. Then the next program kicked off and viewers were told that racism in football would be its overarching topic.
Fair enough one would say – the television station had previously promoted itself as a rather conservative, traditional network seldom reaching out to younger, critical or alternative audiences. Hence, tackling that hot pick is a positive development, written with all due respect.
The first few minutes of the talk show in question – "Markus Lanz" – indeed introduced the topic in clear words and aired a shocking clip from the year 1992 showing a young German football fan arguing the case that black players should "go back to where they came from."
Then four soccer experts joined the round including a former German national team player, a football coach and another former professional player, all guests of color including Ghanese and Nigerian backgrounds. A German trainer formed part of the expert group, too.
They were supposed to talk about their experiences in German football, which according to moderator Lanz was basically designed as a white sport, with dreams of success designed in white and with white as the color to be celebrated.
What he wanted to say is that German footballers were supposed to be white, period. A courageous statement and great commentary viewers for sure will have said and continued to watch with anticipation of a good program.
All of a sudden the rhetoric changed when the moderator introduced his fifth guest in a surpise for the evening, German politician Serap Güler. She is secretary of state for integration in North Rhine-Westphalia, and my initial thought was, "What is her link to international football stars?" Unless of course, the program would now enter the treacherous waters of party politics.
Or of anti-Turkey politics.
Moderator Lanz ended his intro to Güler by saying that she would speak about her views on whether "Erdoğan euphoria would hamper integration efforts" in Germany. Güler herself was born in Germany. She has Turkish roots but changed her passport from Turkish to German about 10 years ago.
All fine – democracy lives from open debates and that includes controversial issues. But once again, confusing the making of objective news programs or talk shows by taking sides, as if anti-Erdoğan sentiments amongst the Turkish community are the order of the day, is totally misleading.
Besides, a front-line German Land government minister who has got nothing better to do than to further incite anti-Turkey feelings amongst television audiences is so much "old type" cliché ZDF, sorry.
It is of course noteworthy that more and more European politicians are entering the ring and declaring racism a thing of the past, or shall we rather say a thing that should soon belong to the past as it is still rampant in far too many places.
It is equally necessary that mainstream media, including leading (state) television stations, take that issue on board and create awareness amongst audiences that racism should not have any future, neither in sports nor in society as a whole.
But what is so disturbing is the realization of those laudable efforts to curb racism are (mis)used to express the usual bias, and in our case, the all too common anti-modern Turkey bias.
Self-styled Turkey experts – in all likelihood – seldom if ever set foot onto Turkish soil try to portray the ordinary Turkish citizen, either here or back in Turkey, as non-intelligent, almost illiterate.
Funny enough is a further detail: These comments usually emanate from circles that may have Turkish roots but have jumped on board the campaign to derail the government and to discredit whatever it does.
Naturally, these voices are normally based overseas as back home in Turkey they would be the absolute minority; the Turkish population has come a long way in ending military tutelage for good and becoming a model democracy.
Hence a fertile Turkey bias breeding ground had to be found and it makes me so sad to see that Germany is one of those locations.
There is of course a certain methodology involved. As many audiences overseas, including in Europe, do not watch Turkish television or have profound knowledge of current affairs in the country, they rely on experts with a Turkish background. After all, what a national of that nation says, albeit residing abroad, must be true, right?
If we then add the constant misinterpretation of all things modern Turkey in the German and European media, ordinary citizens are hard-pressed to ever find objective news about today’s Turkey.
Now abusing the rightful fight against racism in football with the promotion of their standard anti-Turkey fare is cheap, really cheap.
Politics, in general, should be kept apart from sports, but what happened that night on live television by mixing legitimate concerns amongst black sports stars with hatred against another country – Turkey, or to be more precise, the Turkish president and thus his voters – was a new low, even if measured against the usual low standards with regards to this topic.
What Güler perhaps unintentionally overlooks – for the benefit of the doubt – is that the more she and others would declare every vote for Erdoğan as null and void, individuals who wish to destroy modern Turkey anyways might find another reason to continue on their illegal and terrorist paths.
With a strong PKK presence in Europe, including Germany, if terrorist clan supporters now think it is “legal” to attack Turkey then catastrophe waits around the corner.
What the terrorist clan PKK wants is nothing but another form of racism – only what their leaders declare as valid can be implemented. "The other" does not exist for PKK members and supporters. Hence, another form of racism.
What unites all racists no matter from where they originally hail is their belief in a uniform, conformist and usually all-white society.
In the case of "terror racism," all-white is replaced by abiding by leaders. Racists only claim they want to better society but in fact, they want a niche for themselves regardless of by what means it can be achieved.
Football fans wishing to send all black players home is one side of the coin; terrorists trying to blow up towns and cities is just the other side. The moment violence becomes an accepted norm on both sides of the coin – the recipe for mayhem has been found.
Society, and that includes mainstream media and mainstream politicians, should know so much better.
Tackling racism in all its ugly forms whilst promoting a harmonious multicultural society would have been a noble way out the other night whilst addressing the issue on television. So sad it was yet another missed opportunity.
*Political analyst, journalist based in London