Two recent international sports events in German-speaking countries have attracted widespread international interest, not only among sport fans: the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and UEFA EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland.
During the planning phase of the FIFA World Cup, Germany was conscious of the fact that global sports events on that scale cannot but have an effect on the international image of the host country. Major sports events can therefore be used as a means of improving a nation's global image. This is exactly what Germany intended and went on to achieve. Now, in 2008, the year of the European championship in Austria and in Switzerland, an analysis has been presented about the influence it was hoped the FIFA World Cup would have, and what it did, in fact, achieve.
The paper shows how Germany was perceived by FIFA World Cup viewers and selected interviewees before the tournament began, how the World Cup was expected to contribute to changing Germany's image abroad, and how that changed in the course of the championship. In so doing, this report discusses the meaning of the term 'image' and Germany's reputation in other countries. The report outlines the kind of stereotypical expectations people coming to Germany had as far as the country and its inhabitants were concerned, how such stereotypes developed, and what potential there was to change them. The analysis shows that today's mass sports events are ideal platforms for significantly improving the reputation of a country on a global level.
Pressing home the advantage
The paper also gives an overview of how the German government, the Local Organising Committee and other stakeholders sought to make use of the event for public relations purposes. On the basis of media reports from all over the world, it analyses the views journalists had of Germany when they started their reports and then shows how the image reflected in those reports changed in the course of the tournament. These findings are then compared with data compiled by FIFA and the German tourist board (DZT), based on international research they had commissioned on four continents (except Australia). Those findings are then complemented by research carried out by one of the authors of this paper in Australia. This additional research was initially intended to evaluate whether the messages from Germany would reach as far as down under and secondly, whether the reports from the Australian media would differ from those of the fans who actually travelled to Germany for the FIFA World Cup.
The core questions addressed in this paper are: what were the main elements of Germany's image before the FIFA World Cup began, as reflected by the media and the people interviewed in Australia, which of them remained more or less unchanged during the event, and which were altered and possible reasons why.
In short, the answer is that Sporting events on the scale of the FIFA World Cup are capable of significantly changing a country's global reputation and planned and intensive communication in the course of such an event is an effective tool for developing a positive national image globally.