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Foreigners Out?

Can a country perform culturally, economically and socially without foreigners?

September 7, 2000

Can a country perform culturally, economically and socially without foreigners?

A recent survey in Germany indicated that every second East German and every third West German thinks that there are too many foreigners in the country. This is strange, considering that East Germany is home to far fewer foreigners than West Germany. All in all, there were 7.3 million foreigners in Germany in 1996. 8.7% of them live in East German states not counting Berlin — whereas 72.2% live in just four West German states.

While some self-styled “defenders” of German interests are clamoring for an immediate ban on foreigners entering the country, Opel and Bayern München have decided to point out what would happen if this vision of a “purified” Germany came true. To get the message across, they cannily picked two issues that presumably are close to the hearts of any “true” Germans: cars and soccer.

Opel takes pride in the fact that its staff in Germany hails from 40 countries. Similarly, the soccer club stresses that for a total roster of 29 players, talent from 13 different countries have signed contracts with the team. The message of the ad campaign currently featured in German newspapers is quite simple: having success and employing a high number of foreign staff often go hand-in-hand.

The full page ad in a popular Sunday paper stylizes a bird’s eye view of a soccer field with the team line-up superimposed for the 11 on-field. Trouble is, when Bayern shows its German-only force, much of the field remains — mostly empty. Including the goalie, the champion team would have to manage with four lonely Germans out there. And one of them — Mehmet Scholl — actually has a Turkish father.

Bayern would hardly be what it is cracked up to be without its foreign players. The list of countries represented by players on the team is quite impressive:

Bosnia Herzegovina Hasan Salihamidzic
Brazil Paulo Sergio
Giovane Elber
Canada Owen Lee Hargreaves
France Bixente Lizarazu
Willy Sagnol
Ghana Samuel Kuffour
Italy Antonio Di Salvo
Paraguay Roque Santa Cruz
Poland Slawomir Wojciehowski
Sweden Patrik Andersson
Switzerland Ciriaco Sforza
Turkey Berkant Göktan
Zambia Andrew Sinkala

Across all branches of German sports, culture and industry, the picture would be equally bleak without foreigners. The irony is that German football — the nation’s favorite past time — is hardly a national affair anymore. A considerable number of players of any given major German club come from abroad.

In fact, German — and European — football has become so internationalized that the topic of limits on foreign players became an EU issue. It wisely ruled that any such limit would run counter to its rules.

Aside from players born in other European countries, there is an impressive number of Latin Americans and Africans kicking around in the first division. This is only appropriate if one considers that the real soccer audience is truly global. Teams like Bayern München have followers all over the world. Just try watching some national sports shows in Indonesia — and you might think you have tuned in to the main German sports broadcast.

Evidently, both Opel and Bayern München want to emphasize that with increasing globalization, the question of national origins fades away. What counts is not who issued your passport, but what you can contribute to the team effort.