North American Society for Sport History

On Monday 29th May 2017, I will speaking at the 45th Annual Convention of the North American Society for Sport History. My paper will focus on FC St. Pauli's commitment to supporting refugees in Hamburg. You can read the abstract for the paper below:

Refugees United
German football and the refugee crisis: A case study of FC St. Pauli’s direct support for refugees and asylum seekers in Hamburg, 2013 – 2017
In 2015, the world faced its largest refugee crisis since World War II, with millions of families – from many countries including: Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya and Sudan – forced to leave their homes due to conflict and persecution. The ‘refugee crisis’ that unfolded saw 964,574 asylum claims registered in Germany in 2015 alone. At the height of the crisis, in the summer of 2015, around 1,000 refugees were arriving every day at Hamburg Hauptbahnhof (Central Station). The numbers alone are, at best, incomprehensible and, at worst, dehumanizing – reducing people to mere statistics and making them easy targets for discrimination and vilification by the media and politicians alike.
FC St. Pauli, a professional football club playing in Bundesliga 2, reached out to Hamburg’s refugee community. Based in working class district of St. Pauli, close to Hamburg’s docks and only a few hundred yards from the famous Reeperbahn red light district, FC St. Pauli has developed a cult status among football fans. Since the mid-1980s, the club and its fan-base have mixed professional sport with progressive politics; working together to campaign against racism, sexism and homophobia in football.
Through a case study of FC St. Pauli, this paper will examine German football’s overwhelmingly positive response to the refugee crisis. ‘Refugees Welcome’ banners are a common sight inside German football stadia, with many fan groups actively raising funds and awareness for refugee projects. FC St. Pauli and its socially active fan-base have been at the vanguard of support for refugees since 2013, when the arrival of a group of around 300 refugees – fleeing the civil unrest in Libya – drew support on an unprecedented scale for refugees.
On Friday 25 October 2013, at the end of a 0:0 draw between FC St. Pauli and SV Sandhausen 10,000 fans poured out of St. Pauli’s Millerntor stadium and joined a demonstration protesting against the Hamburg Senate’s decision to deport the city’s ‘Lampedusa Refugees’ (named after the small Mediterranean island off the coast of Libya where the refugees were detained by the Italian Government before their eventual arrival in Hamburg). Following the demonstration, a group of women who had played and coached with FC St. Pauli’s women’s teams, took the decision to set up a football team for refugees, called FC Lampedusa. With no official documentation, refugees were unable to play in established amateur teams in the city. FC Lampedusa gave them the opportunity to play competitive, organized football. When the crisis intensified in 2015, FC Lampedusa was able to offer the sanctuary of football for a new generation of refugees arriving in Hamburg. On 30 July 2016, FC Lampedusa were formally adopted by FC St. Pauli – providing both logistical support for the day-to-day running of the refugee football team and underling FC St. Pauli’s commitment to social change. FC St. Pauli’s support for refugees is not limited to Germany, inspired by the club’s position, supporters groups in Yorkshire, Glasgow and Barcelona continue – through the medium of football – to work with local refugee communities.
This paper seeks to clarify and critique football’s prominent role in the cultural acceptance of refugees in German (and by wider implication European) society. Set against a historical overview of fan politics in German football, it will also explain why football fans are at the forefront of progressive social change.