Alon Meyer is the President of the Jewish umbrella sports federation MAKKABI Germany and a featured guest of our 1936, 1972, and 2036(?) expert talk. Among other things, we spoke with him about how both he and the Jewish community feel about the possibility of Germany hosting the 2036 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Hello, Mr. Meyer. You are the President of MAKKABI Deutschland e. V. Please share your thoughts on the following question: Will Hosting the 2036 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Germany create opportunities or pose risks?
As the President of the Jewish umbrella sports association MAKKABI Germany, I am well aware of the unifying power of sports, and I always look toward the future with a sense of optimism. It was by no means a coincidence that the 2015 European Maccabi Games, the first major international Jewish sporting event on German soil since 1945, took place at the Olympic site in Berlin, which was built by the Nazis. It was also the largest Jewish sporting event to be held anywhere in Europe since the Holocaust. Thus, the Jewish sporting community sent a clear signal that Jewish life in Germany should be seen as a matter of course. As a result, I regard a prospective Olympic bid, first and foremost, as a great opportunity. I am, however, also concerned about a number of issues, such as the fact that the organized sports field in Germany has not yet adequately come to terms with its own Nazi past. There is a bit of catching up that needs to be done, and in my opinion. It would be nearly impossible to communicate values in a credible way without doing so.
There can be no future without a past. Hence the question: Where do we currently stand with respect to the reappraisal of the 1936 and 1972 Olympic Games?
For us at MAKKABI Germany, the reappraisal of the 1936 and 1972 Olympic Games, as well as many other occasions of remembrance and the related educational and preventive work, play an immensely important role. In the context of our educational programs, I consider the reappraisal mechanisms in German sports to be a grassroots movement: We have quite a few historians, activists, and fan groups to thank for their groundbreaking contributions and grassroots initiatives. On the other hand, I would classify the mechanisms involved in coming to terms with the past in German sports, and especially at the DOSB, as still in need of improvement. An Olympic bid can only be considered if a thorough and credible reappraisal of one’s own history as part of the National Olympic Committee is finally carried out in accordance with objective and scientific standards, thereby enabling awareness-raising measures in and through sports to take effect in the first place.
To what degree is anti-Semitism still present in German society today?
It is a widespread misconception that patterns of anti-Semitic attitudes in German society have diminished since 1945 or that they have ever completely disappeared. Anti-Semitism is a very transformative phenomenon, and we’re not just talking about openly hostile acts against Jews or latent, often even unintentional, prejudices that have become firmly entrenched in society over centuries. Anti-Semitism is not only a form of discrimination, but it is also a model that is used to describe a world in which Jews are held responsible for complex, global problems. In order to assess the extent of anti-Semitism against members of Jewish sports clubs, our “Zusammen1” (“Together1”) educational project conducted a study organized by MAKKABI Germany and found that 39 percent of our members, whether Jewish or non-Jewish, have been personally affected by an anti-Semitic incident at least once. When it comes to football, the figure is as high as 68 percent. The true extent is concerning, and most people that we speak to are surprised by the results.
Against that backdrop, how does the Jewish community – in Germany and internationally – feel about Germany’s prospective bid for the 2036 Games?
You have to understand that the Jewish community is very open to discussion. I could gather 10 sports-loving Jews around a table right now, and we would ultimately wind up with 12 different opinions. What I have recently noticed in my own surroundings is that many people are only just beginning to take an in-depth and critical look at the issue. I also think that the Jewish community in Germany, as well as internationally, must be given sufficient time to take a position on the matter. The prospective hosting of the 2036 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Germany, 100 years after Hitler’s propaganda-filled Games, would have an enormous impact in many respects: from dealing with the family traumas of the Holocaust, to coming to terms with Germany’s history of violence, to an enormous media presence, the pros and cons of which must be carefully weighed. As the President of MAKKABI Germany and the spokesperson for the Jewish sports community, however, I would like to be courageous and self-confident enough to seize the opportunities created by a prospective Olympic bid and to become a beacon for the whole of society through the necessary, albeit painful, process of coming to terms with the past as it pertains to sports.
Whether or not a bid is submitted, Germany needs to come to terms with this dark part of its history – 100 years after the propaganda-filled Games. What do you think it will take to ensure that the educational and remembrance work is successful?
In my opinion, it is essential that the higher-level association and federation structures take up the strong cultural remembrance work at the grassroots level, give it visibility, and turn all the valuable contributions and initiatives into strong remembrance-based practice. We have to find ways to show each member of society how the past specifically relates to them, and we also have to keep the present and the future in mind at all times. It is only through personal references, for example through one’s own sports association, that the importance of remembrance can be brought into the context of one’s own understanding of values. Taking current geopolitical events into account always presents a major challenge. We live in a post-national-socialist and post-colonial society. That makes it all the more important to broaden the view beyond anti-Semitism to our colonial history, racism, antiziganism, sexism, homophobia, rejectionism, and many other histories of violence.