Overcoming Racism at the World Cup

Watching the World Cup today, I was pleased to see the “Say No to Racism” campaign.  It is remarkable the power of sports and competition to pierce through prejudice.  From Jesse Owens dominating performing in the Olympics in front of Hitler to Jackie Robinson paving the way for acceptance of African Americans in professional sports, we have seen the power of sports in society.

It is one thing to “say no to racism” and it is another to actually do something about it. After watching the last several World Cups, it is remarkable to see how much more diverse the teams have become.  As our countries have become more diverse, it makes sense that our football teams would, but far too often nationalism can include subtle if not overt prejudice.

In an insightful article called “Germany’s Soccer Squad Boasts Ethnic Diversity”,  Srecko Matic writes:

“Of the 23 players representing Germany at the World Cup, 11 have foreign backgrounds….  The sport plays a leading role in a successfully multicultural society today, (and) Germany hopes to reap the rewards with its ethnically-diverse team on the pitch in South Africa.

[Former Captain Michael] Ballack was notable for being born in the former East Germany when he made his national team debut in 1999. His replacement has a Tunisian father, and is well-versed on the collective goals of a diverse group of players.

‘We are a team,’ says Khedira. ‘We all want success at the World Cup, never mind where you come from.'”


What is the best way to overcome racism, prejudice, and stereotypes?  The answer remains relationship.

In what ways have you seen sports make a positive difference in society?

Showing 5 comments
  • Casey

    Whatever. This crap at the beginning of the game looked more like a Soviet-style litmus test.

    “Denounce racism or be purged.” “Bow down on the altar of diversity or else.”

    That’s not what real freedom is about.

    Just let the damn teams play.

  • Eric Bryant

    It did seem that some of the guys are doing it because they have to, but I guess I was just glad to see FIFA do something positive with their audience. It may seem cheesy to us as adults, but my kids and I ended up having a good conversation as a result of it.

  • Tiffany

    Eric,
    I agree with your blog….sports can be a useful tool for changes in public opinion.

    As for the family aspect, the World Cup is a great way to open up fun and educational conversations with my kids as well in regards to different cultures.

    I believe the more kids grow up knowing and appreciating different cultures, the less they will be likely to have racist tendencies as adults.

  • Pete

    For all of the money spent I have not seen one single piece of evidence that such campaigns work ( have a look at a review of almost 1000 prejuduice reduction inteventions by Paluck and Green, 2009).

    All they do is put the right face on for the cameras with no evidence that they do anything to reduce the underlying attitude because people are able to make ‘special cases’ for black footballers but continue to hold racist attitudes about the wider black community.

  • Phil

    Hi Eric

    Interesting to read the perspective from outside of a European context. We’ve had ‘let’s kick racism out of football’ for years. In a country where most of the top players come from overseas (Arsenal and Chelsea have been fielding complete teams of players from overseas for a while) it’s not quite so new.

    However, what about kicking racism out of church? It’s probably not so blatant, but there’s something there. When you are thinking of Christians in Africa, do you think of leaders of mega-churches or of people that still need to get their theology straight?

    The growth in the Christian church is in the ‘majority world’ – Africa, Asian sub-continent – even though the wealth is still predominantly in the west. What would it take to start paying and supporting missionaries from these countries to come to ours?

    Maybe I’m preaching to the converted. LA is a bit more like the UK in its diversity of nationalities – plus you have Erwin from El Salvador – but maybe we are going to have to change our Christian attitudes and encourage others to come and serve us?

    Just thinking out loud 😉

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