Top European football clubs and many federations have leapt into action to help migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia, pledging contributions in cash and kind as tens of thousands of people fleeing from conflict, repression and economic misery flood into the continent.
Germany looks to be leading the way — as it is in the European political realm — with clubs from professional to amateur level as well as the national association DFB raising cash and donating equipment. Some have offered German language classes and distributed tickets among migrants.
“I feel I have to show my support, I feel that I must do that and that it must be visible,” said Hertha Berlin fan Klaus Mueller, carrying a “Refugees welcome” banner as he walked towards Berlin’s Olympic stadium for the game against VfB Stuttgart on Saturday.
“We have to show them they are not alone. We have to help them feel safe. They are welcome here.”
Mueller’s support for migrants who have poured into Europe in recent months reflects the outpouring of sympathy and generosity in the country, spurred by reports of fatal shipwrecks, suffering and desperate conditions on the road.
Germany is struggling to cope with a record number of refugees and economic migrants which Berlin expects will quadruple to around 800 000 people this year.
About 1 000 migrants joined Mueller and 44 000 other Berliners in the stands at the Olympic stadium on Saturday, invited by Hertha, and many more in other professional and amateur clubs across the country.
“Our club is multi-cultural, colourful and integrative. It was clear that Hertha would help. We want to welcome our new neighbours among us,” Hertha CEO Michael Preetz said when he visited the Horst-Korber centre, which is housing about 1 000 migrants from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Right around the corner of the Olympic stadium live children, families, men and women who had a terrible time with suffering and danger. Maybe we as Hertha could play our small part in giving them the chance for a couple of hours to forget their worries.”
At Bayern Munich’s home game against Augsburg, migrant children marched onto the pitch with the players in front of 75 000 fans at the Allianz Arena. Munich’s train station has become the biggest gateway for migrants as they cross into Germany from Hungary via Austria.
The German champions and France’s Paris St Germain have already pledged €1 million while the DFB extended its ongoing refugee project by three years to 2019, boosting its budget to close to a million euros annually.
The European Clubs Association (ECA), which represents more than 200 clubs, have said the 80 teams competing in the Champions League and Europa League will donate one euro from each ticket of their first home games.
Ten-time European champions Real Madrid, the world’s richest club, also announced a €1 million donation to help refugees taken in by Spain, while rivals Barcelona are planning several actions of their own.
“Faithful to its commitment to charity, the club has taken this decision with the aim of supporting men, women and children who have been forced to leave their homes in order to flee from war and death,” Real said.
Clubs in Italy’s Serie A and the wealthy English Premier League have similar plans while Scottish champions Celtic have donated a share of the proceeds from this month’s Jock Stein 30th Anniversary events.
The outpouring of humanitarian concern stands in contrast to recent events in the soccer world, with the image of “the Beautiful Game” tarnished by a corruption scandal roiling governing body Fifa and reports of greed and extravagant spending by senior Fifa officials.
But much like the European Union, there is far from unanimous support for the cause.
Fans of Polish club Lech Poznan, currently awaiting sanctions due to a racist flag showed by its fans in a Europa League qualifier, opposed the ECA’s decision on donations.
“Our club was forced to take part in this action by the ECA. We do not agree with this way of decision-making and we will not comment on this situation, in order not to expose our club to another nonsensical Uefa decision,” Lech Poznan’s fan group said.
While most of the continent’s major clubs and leagues have taken a stand in support of migrants, the message at one club in Israel last week could not have been more different.
Maccabi Tel Aviv fans raised a banner with the message “Refugees Not Welcome” in their game against Kiryat Shmona.
Maccabi travel to Chelsea on Wednesday for their Champions League group stage match, with the English club pledging money for refugees and planning to auction off the players’ shirts from the game for charity.