Will the US soccer team be favorably received in Germany?

In WC 2002, the US team played a contentious match with co-hosts South Korea. The 65,000 S.Korean fans were universally anti-US, fueled by an incident involving US speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno in the recent Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, in which he was awarded the gold medal in the 1500 m after the winner Kim Dong Sung was controversially disqualified for stepping in front of Ohno. The US has traditionally generated strong feelings of antipathy because of soldiers stationed in the DMZ and the Koreans have also resented the pro-US stance towards Japan.
The match was drawn 1-1 from goals through Clint Mathis and the equalizer through Ahn Jung-Hwan. The South Koreans celebrated the equalizer by aping the movements of the speedskaters, a pointed reminder to the Ohno controversy.
The march to war in Iraq was a distant beat at that time. And the 2002 Pew Poll ratings showed that the 9/11 sympathy wave although waning still created a majority in Korea (53%) and Japan (72%) that found the US favorable. Western European countries also showed a slip but around two- thirds of the population still had a positive image of the US. Germany with 61%, France 63%, the UK 75% and Italy 70%.
Lets fast forward to the year 2006. The war on Iraq to date has claimed the lives of 2,465 US soldiers and 224 coalition troops. And approximately 17,869 of them are wounded. Iraqi lives lost range between 38,000 to 43,000. Along the way Spain and Turkey, amongst the big coalition partners have pulled out. The Ukraine and Italy are pulling out their troops by the end of this year.
The 16 nation Pew poll on June 26, 2005 showed the toll that the Iraq war has taken on US image with further slippage of US favorability in the world in all the countries except for India and Indonesia. Western Europe was particularly negative with only the UK seeing the US in a favorable light (55%). In other countries particularly Germany 41%, France 43%, and Spain 41%, had a positive image of the US. The Eastern bloc and Russia countries had a small majority favoring the US.
It has become so bad that George Bush has cut down drastically on his foreign travel. He lives in a security bubble where his unpopularity is filtered away from him from the crowds that come to jeer him. He could not address the Indian and the Australian parliament because it would have created a pandemonium. Condaleeza Rice was booed through her trip to the UK.
What does this mean in terms of sporting events? Is there is any indication that the world thinks differently when it comes to the US sending out their teams for international events? After the 2002 WC, the major sporting events have been the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. The US Olympic Committee issued a warning to their athletes to tone down patriotic celebrations and to refrain from taunting because of the unpopularity of the Iraq war in Greece.
But the US team was recieve by applause and approval in the inaugural Olympic ceremony. The team that drew the biggest jeers and boos was the US basketball team not only from the fans of other countries but even their own for their shoddy performance. There were some disgruntled US athletes who refused to lose gracefully. And then there was the Paul Hamm controversy. But there were no organized anti-US demonstrations.
The 2006 Winter Olympics was overshadowed by greedy commercialization led by Coca Cola and other sponsors. This infuriated thousands of Italian anti-globalization and anti-war activists who led protests all over Italy and hijacked the Olympic flame enroute from Athens. The protestors also heckled Laura Bush with signs saying “Go Home’ when she decided to attend the games. The US Olympic team did not endear itself through the selfish displays of Bode Miller and Chad Hedrick. The reception to the US skiers was not too enthusiastic and there were quite a few hecklers at the bottom part of the ski courses.
Germany and Germans have been strongly against the war on Iraq right from the start. Donald Rumsfeld infamously called Germany as part of Old Europe when they failed to support the US on its war resolution and join the coalition to provide troops and logistics to the war effort. But the cause of anti-US sentiment also extend to the excesses at Abu Ghraib, the incarceration of prisoners without trial at Gitmo, the policy of extra-ordinary rendition, the death penalty, intelligent design, and the increasing religiosity seen in the American public.
The US soccer team comprises a group of relatively low profile players, many who play overseas and who have first hand experienced anti-US feelings amongst the club supporters and players. DaMarcus Beasley at PSV Eindhoven “Even my teammates give me a little stick for it. They don’t like (President) Bush at all,” he said. “I don’t really get any anti-Americanism, but they kind of say, ‘Yeah, we don’t like Americans.”’ I think that they will not do anything to antagonize themselves having recognized that they are treading the edge of tolerance amongst the many Europeans who will witness their matches. Because George W Bush can live in his security bubble and create his own reality but the people who have to deal with that fallout are the players like that of the US Soccer team and the fans that will go from the US to see them.

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10 comments on “Will the US soccer team be favorably received in Germany?
  1. Is is this a soccer site or a political commentary site?? I don’t come here to get my political info…I come here to get soccer updates. Keep it that way.

  2. Zach – you may not like to hear what is really going on in the world, but the truth is the US is just not popular right now, thanks in large part to the unilateral actions of the president.
    This unhappiness with the US spills into all realms, including sports.
    Shourin’s analysis is eye-opening to say the least. If you want to bury your head in the sand, and ignore the facts on the ground, that’s your choice. Unfortunately too many of us choose the easy way out which is to look the other way.
    This is a soccer site, but because soccer is life, the politics around it is inescapable.
    Cheers!

  3. The players on the US national team are used to their unpopular, underdog status by now, so I don’t believe that any stronger than usual anti-Americanism will have too much effect on their performance in Germany. Even in matches that are held within the US, their fans are often in the minority.
    What I would like to see is some sensitivity and tolerance practiced by all parties. If we do well, I would hope that the celebrations by our fans and players be…I’m hesitant here, but “toned down” and “respectful” come to mind. Every nation that does well at the World Cup is entitled to have its fans wave flags and express joy, but this behavior, when it comes to the US, seems to anger the rest of the world. It’s a bit of a double standard. I hope that our fans are on their very best behavior and I have an equal hope that others would grant us the right to celebrate any success (if there is any), without interpreting those celebrations as an endorsement of Bush and his policies. Not everyone voted for him and trust me, those that didn’t don’t want to be blamed for the Iraq debacle.
    Thanks for highlighting a significant issue.

  4. Christian,
    I must agree, soccer is truly life! I also agree that politics affect the game (case in point, the Azzurri). I have no problems with anyone discussing safety issues surrounding a team b/c of the politics (and politicians) back home. I don’t, however, believe this is the site to detail the shortcomings (or praise, for that matter) of a politician. Politics certainly affects our beautiful game, but detailed discussions of a political figure are best left to CNN, Fox News and The BBC.

  5. Susan
    I am actually glad that many players in the US team have played outside and have a much better understanding of what angers the world vis a vis the US. Likewise, the fans who come in contact with US soccer players know that Americans are not arrogant as presumed to be. Having said that, I am glad that there is no one like a Charles Barkley in the team.
    Zach – I think the connection between sports and politics is not analyzed enough in our media. And this is the first big sporting event that is being held in a country where the government actively opposed the war in Iraq. So I think the concerns are legitimate. But Soccerblog is devoted to the beautiful game, and we will keep it that way.

  6. Zach & Shourin,
    Have you read How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer? Some of Foer’s attempts to string together connections between soccer and political economy in various nations are a bit weak. But it makes for fascinating reading and is a good intro to the “soccer-life” relationship around the world.

  7. Susan,
    Read bits and pieces of Foer’s book. I think it is better as a descriptive read rather than the political or economic angle that he tries to support. But there is a book that I would like to read by Eduardo Galeano who I heard recently with Arundhati Roy. It is called Soccer in Sun and Shadow.

  8. Shourin,
    I’ve had Galeano’s book on my shelf for a long time, but other titles keep taking precedence. I think I’ll make June a total soccer immersion month and read it now.

  9. Soccer is the most popular world’s sport and big money industry which soon is going to rule all Nations include and US.
    United around Soccer we stand!
    E.M.

  10. Yes, it was positively received.
    First of all US Soccer fans are extremely welcome:
    http://atlanticreview.org/archives/262-guide.html
    Second, US Soccer players received a great reception:
    “Dignitaries milled about the Grosser Festsaal, or great reception hall, in Hamburg’s Rathaus, or city hall, on Wednesday. On a temporary stage, about 40 German teenagers sang American gospel tunes, all without the slightest hint of a German accent. The American flag shared space with the flags of Germany and Hamburg in the front of the room.
    The festivities were to welcome the U.S. World Cup team to Germany’s second-largest city”
    http://www.azcentral.com/sports/azetc/articles/0609wcupfeature0609.html
    Soccer-World-Tight security for U.S. team in Hamburg | World Football | Reuters.co.uk
    “The class of small German school children carrying tiny American flags watched with their mouths wide open as security frisked their teacher and then rummaged through their own backpacks for any possible dangers.
    It was a blunt welcome for the suburban children to the high-security world of the U.S. soccer team, who were holding a public training session on Tuesday, as they entered the bubble that surrounds the most protected squad at the World Cup.”
    http://today.reuters.co.uk/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=worldFootballNews&storyID=2006-06-07T094650Z_01_L07561697_RTRIDST_0_SPORT-SOCCER-WORLD-US-SECURITY.XML
    Most American Blogs write CONSTANTLY about Anti-Americanism in Germany. Why can’t you guys write anything positive about Germany? Isn’t your bias close to Anti-Germanism?

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