Racist or playful? The German soccer team’s ‘gaucho dance’

 


German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger celebrates on stage during a victory ceremony in Berlin. (European Pressphoto Agency)

BERLIN — They are already calling it Gauchogate.

In the span of a few seconds on a Berlin stage Tuesday, the German national soccer team appeared to undo at least a measure of the goodwill it engendered after bringing home the World Cup title. As thousands of fans who poured into the streets to welcome them home watched, six of Germany's victorious players put on a little display called "the gaucho dance."

In this little jig, the team contrasted Argentines and Germans.

"This is how the gauchos walk, the gauchos walk like this," chanted the Germans, mocking the South Americans as a hunched-over, short and little people.

Then came the Germans.

"This is how the Germans walk, the Germans walk like this."

Back straight. Tall. Proud.

Superior?

With a debate already on here about the return of patriotism in a nation long uncomfortable with the notion in the years after World War II, the inference landed like a bomb. After the Germans generally held themselves with grace in victory after their 7-1 thrashing of Brazil in the semi-final, for some, the grandstanding put more than a little tarnish on Germany's glistening trophy, generating outrage as well as outright charges of racism.

One Twitter user, Sebastian Kawka, posted a link to goose-stepping Nazis under a caption declaring, "This is how the Germans walk, the Germans walk like this!"

Ines Pohl, editor in chief of Germany's Die Tageszeitung newspaper, tweeted: "now showing their true face: this is how the gauchos walk, this is a real shame."

In an editorial, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung bemoaned: "Not only in Argentina will these image turn into a symbol of how the Germans are dealing with this victory. The set phrase of the 'new Germany,' which could be heard for weeks, and said to embody the team's play, will turn into ridicule."

To be fair, this is soccer, a subculture rife with trash-talking songs you can't sing in front of grandma. And the Argentines themselves had penned a little ditty about the Brazilians you might not want to chant in mixed company.

Across Germany's Twitterverse, there were also plenty of other voices bashing critics for reading too much into a celebratory dance put on by group of fun-loving guys riding a national high.

The conservative Bild tabloid mused that "the discussion about the 'gaucho dance' is typically German. And to turn this 'dance' into a scandal is absurd, narrow-minded, humorless and completely inappropriate! The German national team has presented itself sportsmanlike and fair... The German world champions have presented themselves as great ambassadors for Germany. The 'gaucho dance' won't change that."

German long jumper Christian Reif merely tweeted: "LOOSEN UP GERMANY!"

In a statement, Wolfgang Niersbach, president of the German Football Association, said that "the idea came to the players spontaneously out of emotion and joy. They are all absolutely decent and fair sportsmen, who aren't mocking anyone, but just want to enthusiastically celebrate with the fans. I'm sorry, if it came across in a different way and was misunderstood by some."

"I'm going to write a letter to my Argentinian colleague Julio Grondona and make it clear to him as well that this action by no means was meant in a disrespectful way. We hold Argentina in the highest esteem, have the best relations to the Football Association there and are looking forward to meet again soon at the international match in Düsseldorf."

But many still feel the team, in its jubilation, crossed a clear red line.

Anthony Faiola is The Post's Berlin bureau chief. Faiola joined the Post in 1994, since then reporting for the paper from six continents and serving as bureau chief in Tokyo, Buenos Aires, New York and London.
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