'A Time to Make Friends' Didn't Always Turn Out That Way

The 2006 World Cup, the showcase of soccer that drew over 1 million fans to Germany for a month this summer, was supposed to highlight a new Germany, an idea underlined by the games' official slogan: "A Time to Make Friends."

Unfortunately, it didn't always turn out that way.

Anti-racist leaders and human rights organizations warned dark-skinned fans to stay away from the former East Germany, including the state surrounding Berlin, to avoid being killed there by racist skinheads. The right to travel without passports was suspended by the government in an effort to prevent foreign neo-Nazi hooligans from staging racist attacks during the games. A German neofascist party produced a World Cup guide calling for Germany to have an all-white team. A clash with racial overtones resulted in the arrest of 429 German and Polish fans in Dortmund. Rallies and marches by German neofascists were planned but banned by authorities. Right in the middle of the games, a group of right-wing extremists in the state of Saxony burned a copy of Anne Frank's diary and an American flag at a public rally.

Even in the aftermath of the games, which ended on July 9, German officials were reacting to the spotlight on racism that the World Cup brought. Late that month, police made raids in six different German states in a crackdown on neo-Nazi CDs, including the one that was distributed at some Cup games.

These events unfolded in the context of rising right-wing extremism in Germany. The nation's intelligence service reported recently that the number of neo-Nazis had risen to 4,100 in 2005 from 3,800 the year before, while the number of "right-wing extremists" willing to engage in violence rose by 400 to 10,400. There are attacks on dark-skinned foreigners and Germans almost weekly, with around 100 people murdered in right-wing violence since German reunification in 1990.

European racism has been particularly pronounced in the world of soccer, which is easily the leading spectator sport on the continent. Even as European teams have added more and more players of color, racist chants and taunts have grown common, especially in the German, Spanish and Italian leagues. That was underlined a month after the games ended, when a Croatian victory over Italy was marred by the sight of some 60 Croatian fans forming a human swastika during a warm-up match.