Saturday, June 09, 2012

England players visit to Auschwitz was wrong in almost every way


Amongst all the column inches of guff about the visit by some members of the England football squad to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial there is only one argument for the visit which stacks up at all. That is that by going, and having their visit so extensively covered in the media, Wayne Rooney and the others, as role models, will draw attention to the Holocaust among young people who would otherwise be unaware of it. If this is true then it says more about our education system than it does about anything else – surely no child should complete their education without being made fully cognisant of the horrors of Hitler’s final solution?

But this aside the visit was a grotesque and offensive charade. I have written before about the use by sports teams of collective visits to memorial sites for team building purposes. It was started by the Australian cricketers at Gallipoli and has now become almost a norm when teams are within reach of a site commemorating one horror or another. The Football Association inspired visit to Auschwitz took this to a new level of grotesqueness. That they organised a team visit to the site was bad enough but that they invited the media and photographers along was shameful. But it worked - and even The Guardian featured a photograph of players passing under the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei arch.

This was a vulgar and tasteless Public Relations exercise – let there be no mistake about it. Footballers in general and the England team (or some members of it) in particular has a problem with its image. These obscenely wealthy young men reside all too often in the outer fringes of respectability. Their money can and does buy them anything they want – Girls and Glamour, Bentleys and Booze - and the rest. This was an attempt to apply a respectable veneer over the dysfunctionality of some members of the England team. If the FA and its complicit team Manager Roy Hodgson had quietly suggested that individual players might like to visit Auschwitz privately, and indeed if they had without publicity facilitated the visit, then maybe it would have been acceptable. But that was not what happened. This was a visit played out in the glare of publicity with the media present in significant numbers – and the coverage they got will have no doubt have delighted the FA’s apparatchiks. The members of the media were duped - and they all need to think hard about why it happened.

If we live in a society where the only way to make our young people aware of history is to provide the stimulus of a “Celeb” team visit to a memorial site then we need seriously to look at how we do things. This was an example not of a country at ease with itself but of one with offensively skewed priorities.