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Monday, June 17, 2024

Ballet of the Masses: On Football and Catharsis  – Haus der Kulturen der Welt | 07.06.–11.07.2024

Editors’ Choice

On the event of UEFA EURO 2024, scheduled to be hosted in Germany from 14 June –14 July 2024, Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) dedicates its entire space and programme to deliberations on football in the framework of the project Ballet of the Masses—On Football and Catharsis. As a pluri-disciplinary institution that encourages and lends space to the practices of visual and performative arts, sonic/music, literature and oralture, as well as scientific and cultural discursive formats, HKW opens up its doors to football as a practice and concept at the intersection of/with different formats in the quotidian.

Image above: Eddie Peake, Gli Animali, 2017 © Eddie Peake. Courtesy of Fiorucci Art Trust and The Vinyl Factory

In a period in which Europe is experiencing a rise in ideological clashes and political upheaval  that preys upon the fears akin to those experienced during the First World War, it might seem awkward to invoke a phrase by Dmitri Shostakovich in the naming of this project. The Soviet composer and pedagogue is said to have used football as an escape from the stresses of his day-to-day life and football is said to have even had an impact on his music. But the statement attributed to him, that ‘football is the ballet of the masses’ also implores us to think of football as an artistic and aesthetic practice—sonically, performatively, and otherwise—as something that is deemed as a tool to pacify a greater public, as well as something that is magnetic or akin to high art.

Football and Socio-Geo-Politics

Like many other games, such as chess, Monopoly, or otherwise, football is a game of political strategization. It is a game built on crafting a strategy of defence, a buffer zone or zone of distribution at the midfield and an effective attack. The decision to play defensive, Catenaccio, or offensive football, to make the midfield more porous or rhizomatic, to emphasize short Tiqui-taca passes, or long kicks are just a few of the strategic questions that have kept football coaches and philosophers awake at night, and also what lends certain squads their identities. Such strategization is often necessitated in marketing strategies, health or other crisis management, as well as in political campaigns as much as in warfare.

Concurrently, football across the globe has also become a platform that reflects issues of migration and postcolonial realities. In the FIFA World Cup tournaments, after all African countries were eliminated, one could notice that many African fans shifted their support to the French national team, which was colloquially referred to as FC Africa United. This humorous take points at a deeper relation between France, England, Germany, Portugal, and many other countries around the world and their colonial relations.

Newcastle United player Garang Mawien Kuol and his brother Alou Kuol, who until 2023 played for VfB Stuttgart, have come under particular focus, especially during the the 2022 Qatar men’s World Cup, as children who were forced to flee South Sudan to seek refuge in Australia and now play for the Australian national team at varying levels. This story of migration is also witnessed in the German men’s national team with  players of second and third generations of Turkish ‘guest workers’ like Mesut Özil or İlkay Gündoğan, to mention just a few.

Football, Gender, and Sexuality

In her 2022 essay ‘Why football needs a gender revolution’, Stacey Pope discusses issues of gender discrimination and inequality and misogyny and points out that the world’s most popular sport, football, is still a space of male domination. She states that ‘Women in football are becoming increasingly visible not only as players and fans, but also as pundits, match officials, journalists and club workers. But this does not mean sexism and misogyny, which have been core characteristics of the so-called beautiful game for many years, have disappeared.’ This powerful essay by Pope cites a series of gut-wrenching examples of misogyny in football and also points out that ‘football does not operate in a vacuum. If misogyny is rife in wider society, this transfers to the football arena.’ As the fight for equality, diversity, and inclusion in society at large continues, football clubs become a reflection of this, with the remuneration disparity between male and female football players being one core example.

The same applies for LGBTQI+rights in the realm of football. The 2022 men’s World Cup in Qatar raised many questions about the status of queerness and the rights of LGBTQI+ persons as players, fans, and otherwise, and resistance to the discrimination of groups that fall outside of hetronormative frameworks seen across tournaments of recent years will impact the sport for a longer time, but there is still much to be done. While it is still a rarity to hear of openly queer football players, supporters, and clubs, many national associations are creating more conducive grounds for queer people. As Oliver Pieper points out in his article ‘How Germany promotes LGBTQ tolerance in its soccer stadiums’, more and more fans are active in the Queer Football FanClubs network, among them Bradford City LGBT, Roze Règâhs from The Hague, and the Wankdorf Junxx from Young Boys Bern with the intention to ‘promote more gay and lesbian fan clubs and integrate them into the larger fan scene—something that is still challenged at football matches today.’

Football, Performativity, and Music

Football is incredibly intertwined with sonic practices. Each football club has an anthem that urges thousands of fans to stand on their feet with their arms raised high in the air or to pledge allegiance to their teams in song. Singing of solidarity, of pains, or of ups and downs of varying kinds, the fans over generations and across geographies promise their players that they will, for example, never walk alone. Liverpool FC, Celtic FC Twente, Borussia Dortmund, and many other club fans have adopted Gerry And The Pacemakers’ adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical Carousel in the form of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, while others have fetched for Monty Python’s ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ as a way of celebrating or consoling.

Very often particular songs become synonymous with particular football competition, and though they are too many to count, Sportfreunde Stiller’s ‘’54, ’74, ’90, 2006’ stands out as an example of this phenomena when the crowd sang:

Eins, und zwei, und drei, und vier / ’54, ’74, ’90, 2006 / Ja so stimmen wir alle ein / Mit dem Herz in der Hand und der Leidenschaft im Bein / Werden wir Weltmeister sein / Wir haben nicht die höchste Spielkultur / Sind nicht gerade filigran / Doch wir haben Träume und Visionen / Und in der Hinterhand ‘nen Masterplan / Für unsre langen Wege aus der Krise / Und aus der Depression / Lautet die Devise / Nichts wie rauf auf den Fußballthron 

In one song, one could deduce a zeal and zest to win, humour, joy, kampfgeist (fighting spirit), and much more. Another memorable football song in the recent decades has been Shakira’s song ‘Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)’, which motivates players to adopt the mindset of soldiers on a battleground and samples Cameroonian band Zangalewa’s 1980s song ‘Zamina mina’. Shakira’s sound was presented on the occasion of the 2010 men’s World Cup in South Africa, an event that gifted the world a new sonic experience with the vuvuzela.

But these football songs are also spaces of historical narration. There are names of football players sung in Samba in Brazil or Makossa in Cameroon that are not documented in any other form. After Cameroon’s spectacular performance in the 1990 men’s World Cup in Italy, the legendary Congolese musician Pépé Kallé composed a song titled ‘Roger Milla’ to mark that historical event and serve as a carrier of history in the space of popular culture.

In the realm of football and song, one can’t overlook the connection between football songs and spirituality. The football stadium is also called a temple. Not only because some people follow their teams religiously, but also because in the circular infrastructure of stadiums—with the players in the middle like an altar, and with thousands of people cheering and chanting around them— an atmosphere of sacrality is easily invoked. But more concretely, so many songs sung in football stadiums are influenced by or take their cues from religious songs. An article in The Scotsman, for example, details the origins of Scotland’s most popular football chants, such as ‘Follow, Follow’. The song, which resonates in the stadium whenever Rangers FC plays and can be sung by Rangers fans of every generation including toddlers, is based on the famous 1878 Christian hymn by William Orcutt Cushing with the title ‘I Will Follow Jesus’. Another song that fills the air when a team is being trashed in British football or about to be relegated to a lower division is the song ‘You’re Not Singing Any More/Sing When You’re Winning’, which derives from the old Welsh hymn ‘Cwm Rhondda’ or ‘Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer’. But one of the greatest classics of gospels sung in a stadium is the song ‘He Is A Miracle Working God’. Similarly, whenever the Nigerian national team play at home or internationally, tens of thousands of Nigerian supporters cheer on their team by singing and blazing with all kinds of wind instruments to the tune of ‘He is a miracle working God, He’s a miracle working God. He’s the alpha and the omega. He’s a miracle working God.’ It’s perhaps worth mentioning that the God of the Nigerian team is too often the God of the opposing team, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Football and Narration

Football commentary is an art on its own. When Spanish or Argentinian commentators scream ‘Gooooooooool!’ there is something remarkable that comes with that particular art of narration. Commentators like German Herbert Zimmermann (1917–1966), who did the commentary for the men’s 1954 World Cup final, famously known as the ‘Miracle of Bern’, have been immortalized  for their legendary commentatorship: ‘Tor für Deutschland! Drei zu zwei führt Deutschland. Halten Sie mich für verrückt, halten Sie mich für übergeschnappt!’

In that league one would also find British commentator Barry Davies (*1937), French commentator Thierry Gilardi (1958–2008), the iconic Cameroonian football journalist Zachary Tokoto Nkwo (1948–2017), Zambian Dennis Liwewe (1936–2014), Nigerian Ernest Okonkwo (1936–1990) or the Ghanaian Joachim Awuley Lartey (1927–2024), aka ‘Over To You’ Joe Lartey. Radio has played a crucial role in the establishment of football commentary as the epitome of oralture. As a medium radio was a central agent in 1986 as the world directed attention towards what was happening during the men’s World Cup in Mexico. Around that same time, national television was introduced in Cameroon and tens of people gathered around one screen to watch the matches. One thing that stood out was that despite the fact that people were watching what was going on live, they had their radios close to their ears listening to football commentaries. It seemed as if there was a truer and deeper truth in the radio commentaries than what they were seeing on TV. This is a practice still common in football stadiums around the world, as people go to watch live football with their radios close to their ears. This is in large part because radio moderators have mastered the art of narration such that it overshadows the sense of sight. The football commentators were able to invoke images that were richer and more illustrious and more imaginative  than what they saw. This is understandable if one listens to the word acrobatics that the famous Nigerian sports commentator Ernest Okonkwo used to describe a match on Radio Nigeria:

Iron gate Emmanuel Okala throws the ball to Chairman Christian Chukwu. Chukwu taps the ball to dean of defence Yisa Sofoluwe; Sofoluwe sends a telegraphic pass to midfield maestro Mudashiru Lawal. Muda Lawal dribbles two opponents and sends the ball to mathematical Segun Odegbami. Odegbami dilly-dallies, shilly-shallies, and locates elastic Humphrey Edobor. The storm is gathering near the opponent’s goal area, and it would soon rain a goal. Edobor turns quickly to the right and returns the ball to Odegbami. Odegbami kicks the ball towards quicksilver Sylvanus Okpala who shoots an intercontinental ballistic missile from outside the penalty box. It is a goal! It is a goal! Nigeria has scored!

This is the apotheosis of the aesthetics of football commentary or the art of football narration—the brain seems to understand more about a pass described telegraphically than just seeing a pass made from A to B.

DEEDS.NEWS - Haus der Kulturen der Welt - © Random Institute, Unsplash
Courtesy Haus der Kulturen der Welt, © Random Institute/Unsplash

Football and Racism

It is still very common in many stadiums in Europe and North America today that Black and brown people are greeted with racist chants, monkey noises, and too often the Nazi salute.

One particularly chilling example took place on 25 February 2006 during the match between Real Zaragoza and FC Barcelona. Samuel Eto’o, playing for Barcelona, received all forms of racist insults from the crowd. And at the seventy-seventh minute after a chorus of monkey chants and bottles had been thrown at him, Eto’o stopped the match, collected the ball, and said ‘No más! [No more!]’ For this racist abuse directed towards one of the best players in the world, who happens to be Black, Real Zaragoza was fined 600 euros—a decision that came across as an encouragement rather than a means of deterring the crowd from doing it again.

This prevalent ill in the football world and the need to resist racism in football was aptly articulated by German-Ghanaian Kevin-Prince Boateng in 2013 when he said: ‘I tried to ignore racism. Similarly to a headache that you know will go away if you just wait long enough. But that is a misconception. Racism does not go away. If we don’t confront it, it will spread. We have to confront racism and combat it.’

While racism is still part and parcel of football around the world, it’s also important to point out that football clubs and associations are investing in the fight against racism and finding methods of making their players feel more accepted within the club levels. But much still needs to be done.

With the project Ballet of the Masses—On Football and Catharsis, HKW stages football as an aesthetic and sociopolitical experience, a sociological manifestation that reflects the inherent beauties and also the ills of our societies. Football as socioculture, as the mirror placed to society’s face, and a space in which the multitude of cultures we inhabit are reflected.

Prof. Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung


Friday, 7. June
4 – 8 pm
Free Childcare
5 pm
Batuque ne corpo
Workshop with Araiké da Silva

Opening celebration
Friday, 7. June, from 6 pm
Free admission
6 pm
Smoke Machine, Lion, and Jeep
Performance by Romeo Roxman Gatt
6:30 pm
Ballet of the Masses: On Football and Catharsis, Culture, Economy, Health, History, and Politics
Kongossa with Marcela Mora y Araujo and Musa Okwonga
8:30 pm
Meiway & the Zo Gang, Hanaby
Concert, DJ-Set

Saturday, 8. June
1 – 6 pm
Free Childcare
2 pm
World Cup Simulation Experience
Fitness Program with daphne brunet
3 pm
The Rules of the Game
Immersive Game Experience with Anton Rose (machina eX / Rimini Protokoll)
5 pm
Capital Entanglements, Modes of Resistance: Football’s Political Horizons On and Off the Field
Conversation with Maher Mezahi, Zahra Babar and Mickaël Correia, moderiert by Behzad Karim Khani
8 pm
La Fracture
Performance by Yasmine Yahiatène
9:30 pm
Schwarze Adler

Sunday, 9. June
Meta-Roda. The Body as a Garden
Performance by Araiké da Silva & Luan Caja
Pitch Poetics: Sound Installation Walkthrough
Tour with Yara Mekawei
1 – 6 pm
Free Childcare
3 pm
Performance by Anna Seymour
3 – 5 pm
5 pm
Sieger sein

Friday, 21. June
10 pm
Oufsaiyed Elkhortoum

Saturday, 22. June
Turning Football into an Anti-discriminatory Practice—A Beautiful Game in a Society in Conflict
Panel with Discover Football e.V., Gesellschaftsspiele e.V., les dégommeuses, hosted by David Edgar
1 – 6 pm
Free Childcare
3 pm
Performance by Eddie Peake
4 pm
Queering the Field 
Conversation with Fikri Anıl Altıntaş, Esther M. Franke and Almut Sülzle, hosted by Jakob Grüner
5 pm
World Cup Simulation Experience
Fitness Program with daphne brunet
6 pm
The Rules of the Game
Immersive Game Experience with Anton Rose (machina eX / Rimini Protokoll)
8 pm
El Plan
Performance by Juan Betancurth
9:30 pm

Sunday, 23. June
Pitch Poetics: Sound Installation Walkthrough
Tour with Yara Mekawei
1 – 6 pm
Free Childcare
2 pm
Acts of Belonging: Football, Racialization, and the Nation State
Conversation with Khesrau Behroz, Yağmur Nuhrat and Moshe Zimmermann, hosted by Behzad Karim Khani
3 pm
Let – Us – Move
Fitness Program with Anisha Gupta Müller and Husna Chhoangalia
4 pm
The Stadium as a Stage and its Undergrounds
Lecture Performance with Szabolcs KissPál and Richárd Melykó
7 pm
Ceremony Found: Tracing Polyrhythms in the African Diaspora
Lecture Performance with Ras Happa, Véronique Belinga and Christxpher Oliver

Thursday, 27. June
5:30 pm
Pitch Poetics: Walkthrough and Listening Session
Tour with Yara Mekawei
8 pm
Tell Me What You Listen and Dance To, And I Will Tell You Who You Are
Sonic Intervention by Kalaf Epalanga

7. June – 11. July
Pitch Poetics: Football Commentary as Oralture
by Yara Mekawei

The Playground of All Possibilities
by Joël Andrianomearisoa

Teacher training courses
Registration under education@hkw.de
7. June, 2 – 6 pm
Learning to play – methods of creative gaming
21. June, 2 – 8 pm
Every Body is a Good Body


Festival opening: Friday, 7. June 2024, at 6 pm

Duration: Friday, 7. June until Thursday, 11. July 2024


Haus der Kulturen der Welt
John-Foster-Dulles-Allee 10
10557 Berlin

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