Debating Multiculturalism

Jan Rath is a Professor of Sociology, Director of the Institute for Ethnic and Migration Studies (IMES), and Head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Amsterdam, and European Chair of International Metropolis.


In the summer of 2010, the world championships for men’s national football teams took place in South Africa, the country that prevailed over apartheid after many years of painful struggle. Spain won the tournament, but the revelation was Germany. Although Germany has historically fielded one of the most successful national teams, the calculative and unimaginative way the team used to play did not always receive much appreciation. Throughout the 2010 tournament, however, Germany impressed spectators by playing an attractive, aggressive style of football. After the rousing 4-1 victory over England, the German national Sunday paper Welt am Sonntag exclaimed, “With courage and strength the German footballers were knocking on the gates to heaven. The happy ending for the midsummer fairy tale is getting closer.” The team, interestingly enough, represented the new, multicultural Germany. Five players were born outside of Germany, one had dual German-Ghanaian nationality, and several others were second-generation immigrants of Nigerian, Spanish, Tunisian, and Turkish origin. Christian Seifert, CEO of the German Football League, was jubilant: ‘[Germany] is a multi-cultural society where people come to, where people live, where people love to be, and the national team as you see it is very different compared to former days.”

Later that summer, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a public statement saying that the attempts to build a multicultural society in Germany had ‘utterly failed’. Her comments came amid an intense debate about immigration and multiculturalism or, to be more precise, the

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Jan Rath

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