BERLIN (dpa) – Normally, the Germans at the World Cup happily wave their country’s flag and enthusiastically support their team.
Not this time.
Anyone walking through Berlin this week will have trouble noticing signs of World Cup fever. No flags, no signs, no public viewing events – no indication that the football-loving country’s bid for its fifth World Cup title begins on Tuesday with a game against Japan.
Qatar’s human rights record and treatment of migrant workers spoiled the party for many.
“We don’t want to enjoy a World Cup like this,” Bernd Beyer of the Boycott Qatar 2022 initiative told The Associated Press. “The fans don’t identify with it and say they don’t want anything to do with it.”
There have been widespread protests against the tournament during the Bundesliga and second division games over the past few weekends. Fans held up banners blowing up the human rights situation in Qatar, and recently World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman spoke out against homosexuality.
The lack of enthusiasm also had commercial implications. Retailers have previously benefited from the hype surrounding major tournaments with team-based deals for Germany. Former national coach Joachim Löw and his players could be seen everywhere offering various goods and services. According to the Association of German Sports Retailers, the sale of fan articles is down this time compared to previous World Cup years.
“So far it’s not even half of what is usually sold in stores at major events of this kind,” said Association President Stefan Herzog of the RND newspaper group.
Adidas said that demand for Germany kits is low and that the biggest seller so far has been Mexico’s kit, which is considered by some to be one of the most stylish of the kits worn by the 32 World Cup teams.
TV sales, which tend to increase during major sporting events, are also declining, RND reported.
Hundreds of bars across the country are refusing to show World Cup games.
Steif Krüger, who runs a bar in Berlin, said Friday he would boycott the entire tournament even if Germany make it to the final.
“What happens at the World Cup is just terrible,” said Krüger. “The people who have always watched football with us also know that we won’t show it and are happy to support it.”
The Dortmund pub “Mit Schmackes” of the 2014 world champion, Kevin Großkreutz, does not show the games either.
“We love football and we can also say that we live football. The reasons are obvious – that’s why we will refuse to broadcast the World Cup games in Qatar, even if it causes us losses,” said the pub in an Instagram post, to which Grosskreutz replied with three fire emojis as approval.
Qatar has repeatedly resisted criticism of its human rights record and insisted the country has improved protections for migrant workers.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, said on Friday that he would not rule out Scholz’s trip to the final if Germany got that far.
“This World Cup was awarded and will now take place under difficult circumstances,” said Hebestreit with a view to the fans’ boycott plans. “Everyone is free to choose whether or not to follow this event – we live in a free country, that’s the way it should be.”
Bundesliga clubs such as Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach have criticized the decision to award the World Cup to Qatar, saying they will give it minimal attention on their websites and social media platforms. Another club, Hoffenheim, does not want to report on the tournament at all.
“So much has happened and is happening there, which overshadows the great joy in sporting competition,” said Jörg Schmadtke, sports director of the Bundesliga soccer club Wolfsburg, last week of the “Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung”.
Schmadtke said he doesn’t even know if he’ll be watching the games on TV.
“It doesn’t move me as much as in previous years when I was looking forward to such a tournament,” said Schmadtke.
Qatar Holding LLC holds a 10.5% stake in auto giant Volkswagen, which owns Wolfsburg.
Unlike previous tournaments, there will be no major public viewing events due to various factors including cold weather, complications from the coronavirus pandemic and the difficulty of hosting more outdoor parties during the Christmas market season.
The usual huge “Fan Mile” viewing party at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate was canceled in September when organizers said it was not feasible this year. When Germany hosted the tournament in 2006, around 9 million fans attended.
Not only the German fans are unimpressed by this year’s World Cup. The Belgian Football Association this week dropped plans to set up a fan zone where fans can watch games on big screens, citing a lack of demand, and Paris and other French cities have also banned public viewing parties. In Barcelona, Mayor Ada Colau said she would “not allocate public resources or public spaces to viewing a World Cup taking place in a dictatorship”.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports