BERLIN (dpa) – Normally, the Germans proudly hoist the flag of their country at the World Cup 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 were widespread protests against the tournament during Bundesliga and second division matches over the past weekends, with fans holding up banners blowing up the human rights situation in Qatar and recent comments from World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman denouncing 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.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, told reporters in Berlin on Friday that the German league leaders will follow the national team’s games when his schedule allows. He said he wouldn’t rule out Scholz making it to the final if Germany make it that far. Asked about the fans’ boycott plans, Hebestreit said that “this World Cup has been awarded and will now take place under difficult circumstances”.
Bundesliga clubs like Bayer Leverkusen and Borussia Mönchengladbach have criticized the decision to give the World Cup to Qatar and said they will give him minimal attention on their websites and social media platforms. Another club, Hoffenheim, does not want to cover 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.
Qatar has repeatedly resisted criticism about its human rights record and insists the country has improved protections for migrant workers.
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 otherwise usual huge “Fan Mile” viewing party at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate was canceled in September, when the organizing company 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 dropped plans to set up a fan zone this week for fans to watch matches on big screens due to lack of demand, and Paris and other French cities have also banned public viewing parties. In Barcelona, Mayor Ada Colau said she “will not provide any public funds nor public spaces for viewing a World Cup taking place in a dictatorship.”
In Germany, hundreds of bars are refusing to show World Cup games, said Beyer from the “Boycott Qatar 2022” initiative. This includes the Dortmund pub Mit Schmackes, which belongs to the 2014 World Champion, Kevin Großkreutz.
“We love football and we can also say that we live football. The reasons are clear – that’s why we will refuse to broadcast the World Cup games in Qatar, even if it means losses,” the pub said in an Instagram post to which Großkreutz responded with three fire emojis to show his approval.
The Bar Fargo in Berlin does not show the tournament either.
“I have been showing the World Cup on my premises since 2006. Those were always events where people came together, cheered and celebrated, hugged each other. Against the background of this World Cup, you can no longer do that with a clear conscience,” said Fargo owner Lennart Kloehn to the Tagesspiegel.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports