Sportsman’s Dilemma – SWR Sport

Ahead of the World Cup, many athletes are criticizing human rights violations in Qatar. What about complaints in other countries? VfB Stuttgart travels to Texas/USA. Criminals are executed there these days. What to do, asks SWR sports editor Johannes Semüller.

It starts on Monday. The VfB entourage is going to Austin, the capital of the US state of Texas, for a week. The German Football League (DFL) has chosen VfB (and 1. FC Köln) to represent the Bundesliga in the American market; team building, training, PR dates and a test match. At first glance, it seems like a great, relaxing excursion.

But. Just get on a plane and get off, it doesn’t work like it used to. Anyone who sets out on a trip these days needs to think carefully about how they will feel about the social conditions in the destination country. Because the German public pays a lot of attention. sensitive fans, sponsors and the media are watching closely to see if the values ​​we stand for are held in other countries as well.

Symbols, signs, protests

The separation of sports and politics has never worked. But these days I have the impression that politics is monopolizing sports more and more. People kneel, stadiums are lit up in rainbow colors, moments of silence are observed, banners are raised or sports textiles with political messages are presented. The ultras call for a boycott of the world championship, the captains of the national team will appear in Qatar with “One Love” armbands.

Thomas Müller and Nico Schlotterbeck kneel on the turf at Munich's Allianz Arena as a statement for human rights (Photo: IMAGO, student)

National player Thomas Müller kneels for human rights


the students

England coach Gareth Southgate clearly defends his players’ statements regarding political grievances in Qatar. “If we can shine a light on things that need to be different, then we have an obligation to do just that.” Football professionals as moral lights.


Mostly, I like it when athletes not only think about their sport, but also engage in topics outside of the field or gym. But now I have the impression that our expectations from them are too high. I fear we are over heating the sport and the athletes with our attitude that they should name all the grievances in the world.

By the way, what about the commercial corporations that make huge profits from trading with these countries? Why don’t you hear political statements from them? Why is politics silent about certain topics and countries?

Not everyone wants to make political statements

By the way, there are not few athletes who do not want to make political statements. You don’t want to come across as a part-time social activist. Olympic track and field champion Miriam Welte has always avoided “allowing herself to be pushed in any political direction or to make any political statement.”

Criticism of the World Cup and the host country Qatar is relatively easy for us Germans. The German Football Association (DFB) and the pundits know that they get a lot of applause for this in this country. Presenting political positions that already have broad support in our society is not the most difficult exercise.

But what happens when experts present uncomfortable views that cannot be won by the majority? Ask Joshua Kimmich. The national player was publicly lambasted after he expressed skepticism about vaccinations against the coronavirus.

When should I open my mouth?

How brave are actors when it comes to their own wallets, grievances in friendly countries or less popular topics?

Shouldn’t football clubs be questioning the direction of their winter training sessions? Qatar (Bavaria), United Arab Emirates (RB Leipzig) and Indonesia (Bor. Dortmund) will be served in the coming months. States that definitely have some catching up to do when it comes to human rights. Are trips to these countries politically correct?

death penalty in the US

So, VfB Stuttgart is now going to USA for a week in the state of Texas. Tracy Beatty died last Wednesday in a prison in Huntsville, Texas. A 61-year-old man sentenced to death for murder was given a lethal injection.

The death penalty is prohibited in almost all countries of the world. It grossly violates a person’s right to life, liberty and personal security. Along with Japan and Indonesia, the USA is the only country in the free western world where it is still practiced. Currently, 27 of the 50 US states have death sentences. Texas is an inglorious leader in the use of the death penalty. Beatty’s killing was the fourth execution in Texas in 2022. A total of about 3,500 inmates are currently awaiting execution in US prisons.

An audience member holds up a placard calling for an end to the death penalty in the US during Barack Obama's speech in Berlin (Photo: IMAGO, Methody Popow)

protest against the death penalty


Popov method

Human rights organization Amnesty International is therefore appealing to sports clubs such as VfB Stuttgart to take a clear stand on issues such as the death penalty. These are lived values.

Finding the right path

So what should those in charge and VfB professionals do? At admission they must appeal to the conscience of the hosts. Should they wear t-shirts with slogans while training? Should traveling fans throw up anti-death penalty banners during a Test match?

Or should the VfB entourage simply promote German football, the relevance of traditional clubs and good youth work? Should VfBers make connections and make friends rather than publicly posting effective political messages so they can later talk about topics like the death penalty in a protected environment?

VfB Stuttgart is a club heavily involved in many important social issues such as sustainability, fair play, participation and inclusion. Now he has to find the answers to the questions about his visit to the USA.

The next death row inmate is to be executed next Wednesday 260 kilometers from the VfB district. 55-year-old Stephen Barbee will die by lethal injection.

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