Angela Merkel as Adolf Hitler. Really?

England’s Guardian newspaper cartoonist Kipper Williams must be having the time of his life during the current European economic crisis. One of my favorite cartoons from Williams is the prickly bearded Greek footballer wearing a German jersey during the Euro 2012 quarter final match between Germany and Greece.

We’re Greece – [Germany] is just our sponsors.

Referencing German control of their economy, the Greek football team, with ‘Germany’ smeared across the front of their blue jerseys, has fell victim in having to be sponsored by Germany. Even the confused expression on the refs face provokes a smile. He is dumbfounded as the Footballer, holding almost an indifferent expression on his face, explains the situation. Aiming to add a little ‘funny’ spice to the otherwise dismal situation, Kipper Williams stays within the rules of what is ethical and is able to depict the crisis in a soft, humorous, yet provocative way.

During the Euro 2012 Football tournament, cartoons like the aforementioned were making their way quite easily around social media outlets. It was a common discussion amongst my friends: “Hey, did you see that football cartoon? It was a riot! What did you think?” Whether the cartoon was directed toward Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, or even the Germans, it really didn’t matter as everyone was trying to better an otherwise unhappy situation. And while Germany was putting a whooping on Greece, it wasn’t just caricatures being drawn but also jokes being cracked.

@bill_easterly: ‘Greece at halftime of Euro match asks Germany for emergency loan of 4 players.’

To make jokes and sketch caricatures about the other less fortunate crisis-stricken countries is to be expected and as long as markets continue to fall worldwide, artists and jokers will continue to produce what they do best at the expense of others. As fellow writer David J Olsen observed back in June, “…joke-tellers across the globe continue[d] to savor the ever-increasing mountain of comedic material generated by the various races and ethnicities involved in the deepening crisis.”

I don’t see any harm in it as long as the humor (or idea) being presented doesn’t provoke violence, racism, or other similar evils; however, this is not always the case. While funny and humorous Euro crisis material was being spread throughout Europe before, during, and after the Euro 2012, so too was less humoristic, more offensive material.

Depicted in Europe’s media as an unappetizing short, extremely plump centerfold pinup or as a naked, ugly barbarian in hell, German chancellor Angela Merkel and her hard line stance on the Euro zone crisis has become perhaps the most popular popinjay. Many of the depictions are harmless; however, some artists are pushing the limits and meanwhile crossing moral and ethical lines. The most savage and unflattering images are of her as a Nazi.

In February 2012, the Greek newspaper Democratie published an image of Merkel wearing a Nazi colored uniform and carrying the famous Nazi armband on her left arm.

Chancellor Angela Merkel depicted as a Nazi

To reference the Nazis in Greece draws on a long history of national suffering during World War II and the Nazi occupation of Greece. The image led to a number debates in Europe: whether or not it is appropriate – at the very least fair to make such depictions. Nazi imagery is nothing new to the political world. Hitler and the Nazis are common references amongst people who feel subjugated and subordinate – here in America Obama has also been compared with and depicted as Hitler.

President Barack Obama as Adolf Hitler

Although her insistence on austerity rather than aid has been a sore spot amongst Europeans, her actions are a far cry from being anything related to the Nazi era. Comparing her to a past world leader that intentionally murdered six million + innocent people seems quite absurd.

Not everyone, however, feels the same as columnist Jakob Augstein states: “Her abrasive pro-austerity policies threaten everything that previous German governments had accomplished since World War II. …[Merkel] is a radical politician, not a conservative one.”

Although this observation does look to the past to find comparisons, I don’t believe Augstein is insinuating that Merkel is some sort of Hitler-type leader. She has simply failed to observe her predecessors’ achievements (post-Hitler) and has taken a course of her own. A course that Augstein apparently disagrees with.

In response to the images, chief whip of Merkel’s conservatives Michael Grosse-Broemer says “I am not worried (about Merkel’s image abroad) because the characterizations of the chancellor can be explained by her support for something other than simple, popular demands.” He goes on to say, “I think some emotionally-driven judgments about this great chancellor are off the mark.”

I am in agreement with Grosse-Broemer and would further state that the comparison is old, unintelligent, unfair, and disgusting. Many people do find Angela Merkel threatening, such as Mendi Hasan who says “Merkel is the most dangerous German leader since Hitler.” Such a statement, however, is over-the-top and, at the very least, very forgetful of what Hitler did while in power.

It is not the same as criticizing Merkel and saying she has veered away from her predecessors’ politics as Augstein suggests. Instead, Hasan’s remark deliberately inserts the Hitler comparison. To present Merkel as a barbarian or even the ever-so-frightening Terminator can indeed be on topic (as well as humorous) despite its absurdities, but to reference Adolf Hitler and his Nazi counterparts is uneducated, and, at the very least, over the line.

Angela Merkel as the Terminator

For too long Germans have had to deal with their bothersome shadows of the past. It is just fine to disagree, poke fun, and create humorous images of public figures. Whatever other European countries are going though, I can’t imagine it being worse than what people had to endure from 1933 until 1945.

Dresden, Germany after the allied bombings.

The comparison, in my mind, doesn’t even work. It is time to divorce these present day Germans (and their leaders) from their long removed Nazi past.

A protest and march in Athens, Greece.

Quick source reference:
http://www.newsfromtheend.com/2012/06/euro-zone-crisis-opens-floodgates-for.html (David J Olson)

http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/politics/2012/06/angela-merkels-mania-austerity-destroying-europe (Mendi Hasan)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/28/us-eurozone-germany-merkel-idUSBRE85R0BM20120628 (Michael Grosse-Broehmer)

Russian Premier League Primer

Champions: Zenit (via Yahoo! Sports)

    The largely popular video game FIFA Soccer comes out soon and the demo for the game drops today. Now, why am I talking about a video game? The sales from the game broke records for fastest and best-selling sports video game of all-time. FIFA broke sales records last year set by the ultra-popular Madden and NCAA Football. This is especially impressive because in the U.S. the main connoisseurs of sports video games are young males – which in America are forced to watch almost exclusively football highlights during the fall (American football, that is) on sports shows.

            So what does mean and what am I talking about? I’m saying that soccer is penetrating young American sports society, which is exciting for the U.S. to finally join the rest of the world in enjoying the sport. For those in the U.S. who are familiar with European football, many people can recognize players and teams from the top leagues such as the English Premier League, La Liga (Spain), Seria A (Italy), the Bundesliga (Germany) and Ligue 1 (France). These are the top 5 leagues in the world according to the UEFA coefficient (a mathematical formula that ranks soccer teams and leagues based on on-the-field success).

My job is to introduce you to the culture and trends of football in another major European country: Russia. This Russian Premier League introduction will briefly prime you on top teams and players, along with the trends going on in Russian football.

Here are the contending teams:

Zenit St. Petersburg – St. Petersburg

Zenit is the 2-time defending Russian champ and one of the richest teams in all of Euro football. Zenit flexed its muscles by just spending 80 million Euro on Brazilian star Hulk and young Belgian star Axel Witsel. Zenit is in the Champions League and believe they have what it takes to win the Champions League within the next few years.

Star Players: Hulk , ST (Brazil). Danny, MF (Portugal). Alexander Kerzhakov, ST (Russia).

CSKA Moskva – Moscow

CSKA is historically the Russian Red Army team in all sports. After a Top 16 showing in Champions League last year, CSKA qualified only for Europa League this season and has already been knocked out by AIK (a Swedish team). CSKA is known for its strong offensive play and the leadership of its goalie Igor Akinfeev and Russian hero defender Sergei Ignashevich. CSKA did not spend much money this year, and could possibly be passed up by richer team Anzhi Makhachkala if they are not careful.

Star Players: Igor Akinfeev, GK (Russia). Seydou Doumbia ST, (Cote D’Ivore). Keisuke Honda, MF (Japan). Sergei Ignashevich, DF (Russia).

Anzhi Makhachkala – Makhachkala

No one had ever heard of Anzhi Makhachkala when they signed Cameroonian superstar Samuel Eto’o away from Champions League winner Inter Milan a year ago. After years of complete oblivion, people actually know who Anzhi is and recognize several players on what used to be a completely unknown team. Anzhi was bought buy natural gas billionaire Suleyman Kerimov and quickly vaulted into contention. The team is filled with international players from Brazil, Morocco, and a couple more Africans. Anzhi is considered the richest team in the Russian premier league and will compete in the Europa League this season.

Star Players: Samuel Eto’o, ST (Cameroon), Mbark Boussoufa, MF (Morocco), Yuri Zhirkov, MF (Russia).

Spartak Moskva – Moscow

Spartak made a splash a few years ago with the signing of Irish player Aiden McGeady to their already international front line of Brazilians Welliton and Ari. Spartak has hung around near the top of the RPL, but has yet to top Zenit in the past couple of years. Spartak is again near the top of the RPL this season, but has already been blown out by Zenit. Some things seem to never change. Spartak is currently competing in the Champions league, but are in the same group as powerhouse Barcelona.

Star Players: Aiden McGeady, MF (Ireland), Welliton, ST (Brazil), Dmitri Kombarov, MF (Russia)

Rubin Kazan – Kazan

Kazan was top dog as recently as 2007-2008, but finished a disappointing 6th last season, but qualified for Europa with a big win the Russian Cup. The team has been passed up by free-spending Anzhi Makhachkala and still has to compete Zenit and the two tough Moscow teams. Kazan has a shot to prove itself in Europa, but will face Inter Milan in its grouping.

Star Players: Gokhan Tore, MF (Turkey). Gokdeniz Kardeniz, MF (Turkey). Obafemi Martins, ST (Nigeria).

Lokomotiv Moskva – Moscow

The third Moscow team is often forgotten behind oft-champions Spartak and CSKA, but Lokomotiv has a solid team and some interesting players. “Loko” has young up-and-coming Brazilian striker Maicon and can pair him with new signing Roman Pavlyuchenko, a former star for Tottenham. Loko also boasts Brazilian keeper Guilherme and new veteran Croatian defender Vedran Corluka. Corluka joins Roman Shishkin to form a solid defense for Loko. Loko is sticking around the top 5 and has a shot to make Europa this year.

Star Players: Vedran Corluka, DF (Croatia), Roman Pavlyuchenko, ST (Russia), Felipe Caicedo, ST (Ecuador).

With every blog post, there will be an update of the Russian Table:

Table courtesy ESPN.com and @ESPNFC

CLUB P W D L GD PTS
Zenit 7 5 1 1 13 16
Terek Grozny 7 5 1 1 1 16
CSKA Moscow 7 5 0 2 5 15
Anzhi Makhac 7 4 2 1 4 14
Loko Moscow 7 4 1 2 3 13
Kuban Krasno 7 4 0 3 4 12
Rubin Kazan 7 4 0 3 3 12
Spart Moscow 7 4 0 3 0 12
Amkar 7 2 3 2 1 9
Alania Vladi 7 2 2 3 1 8
Krasnodar 7 2 2 3 0 8
Kryliya Sove 7 2 1 4 -6 7
Rostov 7 1 3 3 -3 6
Mordovia Saransk 7 1 1 5 -7 4
Volga Nizhny 7 1 1 5 -9 4
Din Moscow 7 1 0 6 -10 3

 

Zenit St. Petersburg Spends Big Bucks for Big Names

 

Dropping roughly $100 million in a day is no big deal if you are the world’s largest natural gas provider.  Gazprom, the owner of Zenit St. Petersburg, bought football players Hulk and Witsel in hopes of winning the Champions League this year.  The team has won the Russian Premier League the last two years, but was knocked out in the early stages of the Champions League each of those years. The team hopes these two players who got about $50 million each for five-year contract will bring home a Champions League title.

Zenit has been spending boatloads of money the past few years and a writer for International Business Time says these moves were solely based on the amount of money offered. “This transfer is definitely wrong turns for both Witsel and Hulk, incredibly silly choices for them. Money talks in football and this deal proves that statement more than any other deal in history.”  He goes on to say that the players would have fit in better with English Premier teams Chelsea or Tottenham. Both clubs were interested, but could not find the money in time.

Others say Hulk and Witsel will fit in great at Zenit. These additions make them the clear favorite to win the Russian Premier League and much more of a threat in Champions League play.

Russia’s Rio Novosti quotes Zenit’s goalie Vyacheslav Malafeev saying, “It’ll be nothing surprising if Zenit win the Champions League in two years’ time.”

Weighing all the factors with the addition of two big names to Zenit, overall the pickups will be a good thing for the Russian Premier League. With Gazprom putting more and more money into the club more Russian owners will likely follow suit and the

Racism continues to dog European football

Photo via UK Daily Mail — Anton Ferdinand (left) and John Terry (right) face off

Chelsea captain John Terry was caught on tape yelling what appeared to be racist remarks at Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a Barclay’s Premier League match on October 23.

John Terry made the following statement about the accusations against him:

“I thought Anton was accusing me of using a racist slur against him. I responded aggressively, saying that I never used that term,” he said. “I’ve seen that there’s a lot of comments on the internet with regards to some video footage of me during the game. I’m disappointed that people have leapt to the wrong conclusions about the context of what I was seen to be saying to Anton Ferdinand. I would never say such a thing and I’m saddened that people would think so.”

Well John, the video bellow would prove otherwise:

Video via the Guardian.

Anton Ferdinand, who frankly doesn’t need to prove anything here because the video says it all, made the following statement:

“I have very strong feelings on the matter but in the interests of fairness and not wishing to prejudice what I am sure will be a very thorough inquiry by the FA, this will be my last comment on the subject until the inquiry is concluded.”

This kind of behavior is far too common in European football, but usually the racial slurs come from unruly fans. Incidents include racist chants and signs in Spain while Cameroonian Samuel Eto’o played for Barcelona and in Italy at Mario Balotelli (of Ghanian descent).

As an American, I believe the fact that there was never an equivalent movement in Europe to the Civil Rights movement in America, that there are still so many Europeans who consider screaming racial slurs acceptable behavior in their culture.

I don’t feel like I’m taking an unreasonable stance when I believe there needs to be harsher punishment against racist behavior in European football. The culture needs to change.

The president of FIFA (football’s governing body) Sepp Blatter said that on-pitch incidents should be solved on the pitch.

“There is no racism [on the field], but maybe there is a word or gesture that is not correct,” Blatter told CNN. “The one affected by this should say this is a game and shake hands.”

Blatter has since apologized for his statement, but what an idiotic thing for Football’s most powerful leader to say. Clearly he meant it, and subsequently backtracked after he took heat from the like of David Beckham, Sol Campbell, Arsene Wenger and other prominent figures in the footballing world.

Thankfully, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service are reviewing the incident (we’ll see if this take forever even though the video evidence is right in front of them). There needs to be an incentive that makes using racial slurs culturally unacceptable in Europe. If that means making an example of John Terry, then so be it.

Does organized violence still exist in football?

Courtesy of the Guardian

Background

Firms are gang-like supporters groups of football clubs who organize violence against rival firms. I want to find out if firms still exist in English football, or has the increase of money in football priced these rowdy fans out of the seats and into the underground?

The term football hooliganism first arose in the 1960s, and the height of said hooliganism occurred in the 1970s and 80s where fights amongst firms occurred in the stands and outside of stadiums every match day.

These hooligans were mostly working class; football was an integral part of their lives, and they seemed to welcome the attention that their violence received. Notable firms were Chelsea’s Headhunters, Birmingham City’s Zulus, and arch rivals Milwall (Bushwackers) and West Ham (Inter City Firm).

Film portrayals

Movies such as Green Street Hooligans and The Football Factory have glorified the violence. I think they’re eye-opening movies that, for Americans, show an underground culture, but I can understand when people criticize the films as over-dramatized violence.

Green Street Hooligans features the previously mentioned rival firms of Milwall and West Ham:

Has money lessened the violence?

As English football has gone global with pricey television contracts from the likes of ESPN and Fox in America, more money has been invested in more sophisticated policing and stadium security.

Teams have gotten smarter about separating fans of opposing teams within the stadium. Higher ticket prices have also priced out some of the working class fans that used to make up the firms.

Firms likely still exist in some capacity, but if they’re attacking each other, it’s not happening in and around football stadiums as often.

Background info: http://www.sirc.org/publik/fvexec.html#_VPID_9

http://soccerlens.com/football-violence-worst-football-riots/23093/

Arsenal tries to save its season with an injection of international talent


Courtesy of Flickr

After an 8-2 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United in the third week of a young EPL season, reporters went as far as asking longtime Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger if he was set to retire.

Rather than retiring and returning to his home country of France to party with Jay-Z in Saint-Tropez, he got busy adding players to a team in desperate need of a lift. Before the transfer window closed on Wednesday, Arsenal purchased:

  • German center back Per Mertesacker (from Werder Bremen)
  • Brazilian left back Andres Santos (from Fenerbahce)
  • South Korean striker Park Chu-young (from Monaco)
  • Spanish midfielder Mikel Arteta (from Everton)

Also, Chelsea agreed to loan Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun to the North London club until the end of the season.

After so many additions, Gunners fans, playfully known as the “Gooners” for their die hard loyalty, won’t put up with anything other than a top 4 finish in the league.

The culture of Arsenal fans might not be to expect big name signings, but rather they expect to keep the young talent they’ve developed. They haven’t liked the losses of Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas. Maybe these recent signings will give the Arsenal faithful new hope.

Additional sources: Grantland.com, http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/football-league-blog

On the pitch, in the Closet – Homophobia in football

In the 2010 World Cup in South Africa over the summer, Fifa, the international governing body of professional football, actively spoke out against racism. Before every match, players from both sides came together and held a banner that read,“Say no to racism”.

But Fifa hasn’t been nearly so vocal in speaking out against other forms of discrimination. In fact, on the subject of homophobia, Fifa has been conspicuously silent.

England captain, Rio Ferdinand - John Dempsey, Creative Commons

Described as the scourge of football by England captain Rio Ferdinand, homophobia is something that, though prevalent in the stands of football stadiums across Europe, manages to go largely unaddressed.

The problem begins and ends with the fans. Football stands have long been the home of some of the worst society has to offer, from racism to neo-fascism, and racial and homophobic slurs targeted at players can often be heard. Many cite this as the primary obstacle to gay footballers coming out.

Earlier this year, the <a href=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Football_Association” target=”_blank”>Football Association</A> (FA) of England released a video addressing homophobia in English football. It took the FA two years to release the video, which depicts a white-collar football fan using slurs against people in everyday life, and the campaign which the video is a part of is completely devoid of professional English footballers.

Apparently nobody, from David Beckham to John Terry, captain of England at the time, to Fabio Cappello, manager of the English team, wanted anything to do with the campaign.

But this is hardly surprising. As Musa Okwonga, a blogger for the Independent newspaper in London, writes, homosexual footballers shouldn’t come out if it makes them uncomfortable. Okwonga acknowledges the physical and professional dangers of coming out, but thinks that the internal struggle of figuring out one’s sexuality might be another important component.

In the last 20 years there has been only one prominent case of a professional footballer coming out. Justin Fashanu was an English player who played for such clubs as West Ham and Manchester City. Fashanu came out in 1990 and was immediately condemned, and even publicly disowned by his brother.

He committed suicide in 1997.

The BBC’s Inside Out produced a short documentary on homosexuality in football, which touched on Fashanu’s case.

The homophobic culture of football is one that will take time to change, and won’t unless the entire football community comes together to change it. Football is a beautiful sport, one that brings people together, and it is truly sad to see that it is still a harbor for so much hate.