Pablo Thiam’s stated aim leaves little room for doubt: For his protégés, the youth players of VfL Wolfsburg, it should be a matter of course to have an open attitude towards life, to not hold prejudices, and to show tolerance and respect to your fellow humans. “Football is the best place to learn these lessons,” says Thiam, Head of the Wolfsburg Academy. “In football, it’s not about the language you speak, where you come from or the colour of your skin – it’s about the individual skills that you bring to the team. It shouldn’t be any different in life.”
Thiam, a former Bundesliga professional (311 matches, 23 goals for 1. FC Köln, VfB Stuttgart, FC Bayern München and VfL Wolfsburg), is one of the speakers at this year’s conference on anti-discrimination and diversity. This is the seventh time this conference has been held, and the second time in this joint format by DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga and the DFB. Under the current circumstances with the coronavirus crisis, the conference will be taking place for the first time as three separate virtual events. At the kick-off event, where Thiam spoke about his work in Wolfsburg, the focus was on racism and diversity.
Over 200 participants from the Bundesliga to the Regionalliga
The invitation to attend this conference was initially accepted by over 200 participants from various areas including fan representatives and security officers, event managers and CSR officers at clubs in the Bundesliga, Bundesliga 2, 3. Liga, FLYERALARM Frauen-Bundesliga and the Regionalliga as well as representatives of socio-educational fan projects.
The journalist and author Ferda Ataman, who is chair of the ‘New German Media Professionals’ association, kicked off the three-hour event with a motivational talk in which she addressed the multifaceted nature of racism and read passages from her book ‘Hört auf zu fragen, ich bin von hier!’ (‘Stop Asking – I Am From Here!’). Ataman was born in Stuttgart, but her parents are from Turkey. The journalist explained how important it is to cultivate a shared understanding of racism in order for diversity to flourish. Her key message: “Racism is an issue that affects society at every level, not just minorities. Racism affects us all to some extent.”
Communication is crucial in the fight against racism
The subsequent discussion round, which was moderated by author and sociologist Robert Claus, gave others the opportunity to talk about their approach to fighting racism – including Pablo Thiam, who provided valuable insight into how the youth players at VfL Wolfsburg are being sensitized to the issue. ‘We engage in regular discussions with the young people here and, through the way we think and act, try to cultivate a sense of openness among them,’ says Thiam. With these words, he underscored what many of the participants in the virtual session themselves expressed in their talks: the importance of ongoing communication in the long-term fight against racism.
Joining Ferda Ataman and Pablo Thiam on the virtual podium were Paul Keuter (Member of the Management Board for Hertha BSC) and Daniela Wurbs (KickIn! – Advisory Centre on Inclusion in Football). Other conference participants also had the opportunity to offer their thoughts, resulting in a lively and intense discussion.
Other focal points of this year’s conference on anti-discrimination and diversity include strategies for fighting right-wing extremism and sexualised violence in football and its fan scenes. Like the conferences held in previous years, the aim of this year’s conference was to learn more about the latest developments in all the topics covered, engage in dialogue and, ideally, to initiate and develop strategies of action.
DFL supports numerous projects
The DFL and the 36 clubs in the Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 have been actively fighting racism for many years. One example of their efforts is the ‘Pool for the Promotion of Innovative Football and Fan Culture’ (‘PFiFF’), which was launched in 2014 and, over the years, has supported numerous projects – including projects aimed at promoting tolerance and anti-discrimination. ‘PFiFF’ is provided with academic support from the University of Applied Sciences Potsdam. The ‘EXIT’ program, which is aimed at people leaving the extreme right-wing subculture, also supports PFiFF in the steering group. Further information (in German language only) about the funding criteria and guidelines as well as examples of projects can be found under https://www.dfl.de/de/fans/pfiff/.
(DFL Deutsche Fußball Liga)