Refugees welcome. For the first time in a long time, world football has done something to be proud of. The beautiful game's politics are anything but, most of the time. As it is a microcosm of the world, with its cogs being turned by greed, lust for power and human selfishness, it ultimately spews the same bile as human existence at large. Still, many of us live in the delusion that the game, with its own special rules and problems, exists as an idealistic utopia within the larger cultural wasteland.
It took a picture of a dead child washed up on a Turkish beach for the world to act. The image of the wet, lifeless body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi became the martyr for human compassion when it was published two weeks ago. Since then, there have been European nations who have flung their doors open to displaced Syrians, some who've watched refugees enter with skeptical eyes and others who've kept a secure headcount of each person allowed in under the quiet scrutiny of the watching world.
Germany has welcomed the refugees with open arms and so did her clubs. Bayern Munich's response has been unprecedented in their effort to provide "financial, material and practical help." The Bundesliga champions have worked to provide free food, German language courses, football kits and training camps while pledging to donate a million pounds to the refugee projects in the city. The funds are to be generated from a friendly match against Egyptian club Al-Ahly and will be played in Germany.
Last weekend, as Bayern and Augsburg players walked out before their match, each player held hands with a German and a Syrian child in a show of solidarity. Germany would not abandon them. The children seemed over-awed by the spectacle, some blushed and kept their heads down while others waved sheepishly to the crowd.
If the football world is a reflection of the real one, then these actions represent its greatest strength: human kindness. Helping others in need -- not through obligation or the expectancy of a return service, but because you have the means to lighten their burdens -- is a reminder to all involved that life is valuable. It is the sole rebuttal to a world that is engineered to remind people of their insignificance.
It didn't stop at Bayern either, as the rest of the German clubs extended their generosity in step with the country's lead. Borussia Dortmund, in accordance with the city's "Arriving in Dortmund" campaign, invited 220 refugees to their Europa League qualifier second leg against Odds BK. The initiative is similar to Bayern's: Created to welcome and help arrivals settle in the city while, as the club's Project "Light Up" declares, aiming to deliver "true love."
Schalke released a video with club legend Gerald Asamoah, where he spoke of the need to unite in defiance against suffering. Dortmund responded with the statement: "Divided by colors, united in this." The team also invited 100 refugees to their opening game of the season while starting a project to provide clothes and toys to the displaced.
Werder Bremen have a similar idea with the same mission statement, so do Hannover and Hoffenheim. Cologne has a history of helping refugee groups and are continuing down that path under the notion that football unites people. Ingolstadt is working with schools and Stuttgart is doing their work through the city's theater.
Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bayer Leverkusen, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Freiburg, Dynamo Dresden and so many more, including the German national team, are all playing their parts in an effort to help. As the Dresden chairman puts it:
"Hospitality, respect and openness towards asylum seekers follows directly on from sporting values held by our teams. Refugees come to us because they are persecuted in their homelands for their beliefs and fear for life and limb at home. As sports clubs, we want to show these people that after all they have suffered, they are welcome in our midst."
The fever has spread to other parts of Europe. Celtic have promised donations to the cause, with Chief Executive Peter Lawwell stating, "Celtic was established as a football club to help people in need and this ethos remains a fundamental part of our club almost 130 years after our formation."
The Swiss Football league donated 455 euros for every goal scored in the first and second divisions on the weekend of Sept. 11. Federation President Heinrich Schifferle said: "Our clubs know on a daily basis the real meaning of the words integration and solidarity," adding that over 50 nations had been represented in the league last year.
Roma President James Pallotta helped found "Football Cares" in an attempt to unite as many football fans and clubs as possible in an effort to help refugees. It has been met with tremendous support, so far, with teams such as Italy's own Inter Milan and MLS's Los Angeles Galaxy joining the effort.
Barcelona and Atletico Madrid donated a signed shirt for a charity auction, while prompting clubs and fans to join in to help. Real Madrid did their part, donating a million euros and using their considerable influence to take the issue up further. The club stated:
"The president of Real Madrid, Florentino Pérez, spoke (on Friday) by phone with the president of the government, Mariano Rajoy. The pair talked about this contribution and other measures that the club will put in place in order to collaborate with the care of refugees that arrive in Spain."
Not all have been so moved. The hesitance of the English clubs to respond in the same way as their counterparts reflects the country’s leeriness of immigration. Arsenal, who have longed worked with refugees in partnership with "Save The Children" sent consignment boxes and are developing initiatives to help displaced children in refugee camps. Beyond that, the clubs have kept a low profile, replying to inquiry with statements attesting to their known charitable nature and desire to keep an eye on the proceedings.
That brings us to the reason for that inaction and the main argument of dissenters: Don't politicize football. Politics are inherently divisive, football is meant to be an escape from it and the rest of world's chaos.
But what is meant to be, hardly ever is. To believe in the separation of football and politics is to think that human beings can banish parts of their identity for the sport. Football is naturally political because people are political. Aside from the flagrant fact that many football clubs have political backgrounds -- like Barcelona supporting the Catalan independence -- to think that this divide is possible is to live in delusion.
We are bound by the laws and policies of those who govern us, from the regulation of the foods that we eat to the taxes on the football tickets and merchandise that we buy. Members of FIFA are on the verge of being prosecuted by governmental bodies for football crimes. The TV deals, the stadium licenses, the contracts are all overseen by political entities and it is of course by political hands that the favelas and villages are razed for World Cups. Football does not exist outside of that, no matter how much it tries to convince itself otherwise.
And so, the inaction of many of the English clubs is a political act in itself.
If we are, of course, to accept that football is the world's game, the one supposedly meant to unite, then how could it not care? It's tempting to say that football should care because many of its stars are children of refugees or refugees themselves. West Brom captain Saido Berahino lost his father in the Burundian Civil War and had to flee by himself, at the age of 10, to England to reunite with his mother and siblings who had already been granted asylum.
Germany's national team is largely composed of children of immigrants or players that were immigrants themselves. Celtic was founded by refugees. But if we argue that, then we affirm a talent quest. Arguing that aid should be administered because some of the refugees may become stars in the future opens the gates to discrimination. It says that their chance at life is entirely dependent on whatever talent they might have ... and their ability to maximize it.
What, then, is the social responsibility that the football community has to those in need?
The answer then simply seems to be the one given by the clubs and associations that have come out to aid: You help because you can. You help because you know the value of a life and all its experiences. This humanitarianism is a testament to the sport's true power.
Football does indeed unite when it's allowed to. Germany was the most welcoming of all European countries, so were her football teams. And inversely, the behavior of the English teams mirrored that of the mother country. So many clubs and leagues have a tangible and critical effect on the lives of these refugees, a reminder that the sport is not isolated from the real world as we like to think.
These teams are an extension of wills greater than them, working to alleviate some of the suffering of those fleeing a great evil. Or else they are just football clubs.