Dhat sport and politics can hardly be separated is nothing new. The German Football Association (DFB) has therefore carried out an astonishing turnaround in the past few months. After sport was neglected at the World Cup in Qatar because politics was the main focus for a long time, it should be quieter about “these things” around the association’s first team, as national coach Hansi Flick recently simply called them.
The fact that sport and politics are now forming an inseparable connection is something the DFB has to blame itself for. For the 1000th international match of the men’s team, which did not take place in the semi-finals of the World Cup due to the sporting disaster, but only more than six months later, the association chose Ukraine as the opponent, even if DFB President Bernd Neuendorf said on Friday : “We play more with Ukraine than against Ukraine in this game.”
Especially against the background of the most recent events in the country – which has been suffering from the Russian war of aggression since February 2022 – the game on Monday (6 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker on international matches and on ZDF) is a “sign of solidarity and support. This game is a real statement for me”. 1000 refugee Ukrainian children and young people and their companions were invited by the DFB. At the top of the guest list is Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier – more politics is hardly possible. All this on the anniversary filled the former SPD State Secretary Neuendorf with visible and audible pride.
“No permanent DFB ban”
A year before the European Championship in their own country, the election of Ukraine does not only play on the field of world politics. The DFB ignored Bremen as the venue for more than eleven years. In 2014, the city’s association even withdrew a game because the Bremen Senate demanded that the German Football League contribute to the police costs of high-risk games.
The “political differences”, which have also been fought out in court for years, have not been resolved, but “we don’t want the football-loving region to be permanently banned by the DFB,” said Neuendorf. Since the association wants to move towards the fans, this is a signal. The same applies to the earlier kick-off time than usual.
So that the sport doesn’t get neglected despite all the symbolic politics, the DFB, which extended the contracts with U-21 coach Antonio Di Salvo and co-coach Hermann Gerland on Friday until mid-2025, placed Rudi Völler next to Neuendorf. The political debates about the national team had long since become too colorful for the sporting director.
One of Völler’s first official actions was to reduce the color spectrum on the captain’s upper arm to black, red and gold. Völler then contradicted Neuendorf that Ukraine was more of a teammate than an opponent. “Our president is very diplomatic, that’s how it is in politics,” he said. But: “It won’t be a real friendly game.”