- 21 March is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
- Gerald Asamoah was the first African-born player to represent Germany
- “Football has the power to unite”
A FIFA World Cup™ runner-up in 2002, Gerald Asamoah also won the DFB Cup twice and made almost 300 Bundesliga appearances as well earning 43 international caps for Germany. The striker also played his part in the country’s legendary ‘summer fairytale’ when they finished in third place as the host nation at the 2006 World Cup.
At first glance, Asa appears to have had a fulfilling and almost perfect career. Yet not everything was positive in his 15 years as a professional player, and not only in sporting terms. Despite all the beautiful aspects of football, the game itself is not immune to negative influences, with racism and discrimination undoubtedly the ugliest of these.
Born in Mampong in Ghana, Asamoah also had to endure such experiences when he arrived in Germany over 30 years ago. He made history in 2001 when, shortly after acquiring citizenship, he became the first African-born player to represent Germany. At the time, Asamoah said his decision was motivated by a desire “to maybe make a difference”, namely that “a few people would recognise that black people can also do good for Germany”.
To mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we spoke with the 42-year-old about racism in football and in society, and about what role football and FIFA can play.
A practising Christian, Asamoah believes world football’s governing body has been right in its long-standing commitment to the fight against racism and discrimination. “As long as you can do more, you should always do it,” he said. “Obviously it’s good to see that much as already been done, but you can always do more.”
The fight appears to be making an impact as there have already been changes and improvements compared to previous years. “But there are still people who don’t want to understand, and you have to fight against that. You have to try and win over those people.”
A few months after hanging up his boots as a player, Asamoah made a high-profile appearance at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala 2015 when he received the FIFA Fair Play Award on behalf of all football associations and clubs around the world that are involved in helping refugees.
“At the end of the day, it's just about standing up for things that should be completely normal: welcoming people in need of help with a warm heart. I’ve experienced first-hand what it's like to come to a foreign country and be accepted there. That's why it's only natural for me to get involved.”
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Asamoah said his “faith in God” has helped him through critical situations. “When you hear and see that something has happened again, you wonder why some people don’t want to accept that we’re all human beings, no matter the colour of your skin or where you’re from. You have to try to accept everyone. It’s a shame and it’s disappointing that we still have to talk about these issues in 2021.”
Have there been changes for the better? “I used to get bananas thrown at me,” Asamoah said. “That doesn’t happen anymore nowadays, but there’s still hostility.
“Football is a sport that really brings people together. There are lots of different nationalities in the changing room and everyone only has one aim: to be successful together. Clubs and footballers have a position as role models. If someone in the public eye, like a professional footballer for example, says something against racism, then it has a wider reach.
"Sustainability is the most important thing. We need to act more than we react. A lot of the time the issue only appears in the media when something happens. We need to get into schools more and people with a platform need to send out a message that we’re all the same.”
...his own experiences with discrimination
“I’ve always said that you won’t change much if you don’t speak up. I’ve faced a lot of negativity and I tried to stand up to it. It’s hard to reach people who unfortunately already think in a discriminatory way, but young people who are the next generation and don’t have prejudices need to be set an example that we’re all the same, regardless of skin colour. That’s what I’ve always tried to pass on.
“The worst time was after the 2006 World Cup. I actually had the feeling that I was completely accepted and really belonged. After all, the team had been successful at the World Cup. But suddenly a couple of weeks later I had a game with Schalke and I was jeered in the stadiums and insulted with the ‘n’ word – even from the same people that had been cheering me on just a few weeks earlier. That really hurt me a lot. It was a step back that I was incredibly disappointed about.”
...help through football
“Football has the power to unite. Everyone knows the game and everyone can play it, regardless of their background. As soon as you start, you have a common goal right away – to be successful. Football helped me a lot when I moved to Germany from Ghana at the age of 12 because it gave me contact to people straight away. Obviously I had my family as well, but thanks to football I was able to learn about the other culture first hand and I was immediately accepted as part of the community by my new teammates. That’s why I’m very grateful to football and I know full well that I wouldn’t have had opportunities to be where I am now without it.”
...starting out at his club
“Back then I didn’t speak any German. That’s why it’s good to sign up to a sports club. It gives you a good foundation to take the first steps, in terms of language, movement and integration all the way through to having shared objectives and successes. On top of that, it’s always better to be at a sports club than to be sitting at home watching television. Football helped me to stand on my own two feet and to learn to make my own decisions, because that’s what you need to do out on the pitch.”