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Orange Fever, Red Fever or just plain fever.

Orange, orange everywhere, and yet, so much to drink.  Even an hour after the referee had blown the final whistle, the bar was still packed with enthusiastic devotees in bright orange watching highlights from the match.  The Dutch national football team had just shut out Italy, the national champions, in a perfect 3-0 win, and their fans were celebrating in style.  Outside, jubilant football followers declared their patriotism from rooftops, cars, and boats.  An older woman waved an oversized Dutch flag out of a car and cheered for any pedestrian who approved.  A gang of teenagers kicked around a shiny orange football, reenacting the saves, the tackles, the goals and the glory.  An older man in a bowler hat argued that 2008 could finally be the year the Netherlands brings home a trophy.  The streets that night were sticky from spilled beer and cola, and no one doubted that the next day would be a slow one.

Exactly forty-eight hours later Turkey defeated its Swiss opponents 2-1, and the streets in Amsterdam were once again packed with adoring fans.  This time, however, the bright orange was replaced with a royal red.    Youths with red scarves once again reenacted the pivotal moments of the game; teenagers with red jerseys flirted with girls in red headscarves; old ladies shared stories about how this or that player used to live ‘just down the street’ from them; toddlers screamed in strollers that had been adorned with Turkish memorabilia for this occasion; and groups of friends drove around the city’s streets, honking their horn until their palms (appropriately) went red.  Those with a few Euros to spare calculated the probability that Turkey would advance to the next round.  Once again, the pavement smelled of alcohol, and no one doubted that the next day would be a slow one.

With the 2008 European Football Championships being held this year in Austria and Switzerland, it was likely that several Humanity in Action fellows would be red-carded from the program for having more than minority rights on their minds.  Yet, given the international popularity of football, time spent watching the games or discussing the Netherlands’s chance at success was not necessarily time wasted.  Discussions about race, historic rivalries, and nationalism in football are often proxies for more pressing concerns like immigration, the use and abuse of history, and the fostering of national identity.  The influx of African and Middle Eastern immigrants into Northern Europe has also altered the racial make-up of their football teams.  This year, Germany, France, and the Netherlands all fronted players with non-white parents; it is interesting to investigate the society from which these players hail.  Amsterdam’s Turkish minority followed the Turks’ progress in the European Championships with great interest, but it was uncertain how supportive they were of the Dutch effort. Similarly, while the native Dutch population was understandably gung-ho about the Netherlands, they did not cheer for their Turkish neighbors as well.  And, finally, the Moroccan population, which could not cheer for Morocco in a European competition, seemed apathetic throughout the entire ordeal. 
These phenomena got our team interested in whether an individual’s decision to support a particular national team was based on his/her perception of race and integration. In the process of integration labels play a big role. In Dutch society the term allochtonen is legally used to refer to people who are born abroad or have at least one parent born abroad; whereas the term autochtonen refers to native Dutch. In reality these terms are more expansive and refer also to third generation immigrants. Interestingly enough, most of the Dutch Royal family, which symbolizes the Dutch nation, is technically allochtoon but is never referred to as such.  Are well-integrated Turks more likely to support the Dutch football team? Are Moroccans more likely to support their fellow Muslims or their newfound home? Were open-minded whites more likely to support Turkey after the Dutch left the competition? And furthermore, what would our findings reveal about the ability of football to facilitate racial integration and harmony?   
We decided that statistics would answer our questions.  Over four days, we approached strangers in different areas of Amsterdam and asked them to numerically express their approval or disapproval with a number of statements (7—extremely approve; 4—neutral; 1—extremely disapprove).  These statements were designed to reveal the subjects’ support for a particular national team and his or her opinions on race.  After obtaining several numerical answers, we used simple statistics (correlation) to determine if a relationship existed between an individual’s support for a particular team and his or her opinions on race and integration.  We approached allochtonen with Turkish and Moroccan backgrounds and native Dutch autochtonen.  While the Turks barely managed to squeeze past the Croatians in the quarter-finals, the Russians ensured that the Dutch national team was not so lucky.  We were curious whether the white Dutch would shift their support to their Turkish neighbors’ country of origin (Turkey) and whether the Moroccans felt connected (at least, superficially) to their fellow Muslims.  

During our preliminary research, we read several reports on Dutch-Turkish media that urged Amsterdam’s Turkish population to support both the Turkish and the Dutch national teams.  We saw the European Championship as a prime opportunity for the Turkish population to demonstrate (once again, superficially) their loyalty to the Netherlands.  We were curious to see whether a relationship existed between how connected a young Turk was to the Netherlands and his or her support for the homeland.  These are the statements with which we provided people and asked them to indicate their level of agreement:  

Allochtonen – Turkish:

1. I feel welcome in Dutch society by the autochtonen population.

2.  I supported the Dutch national football team in the European Championship.
3.  I supported the Dutch national football team more than the Turkish national football team in the European Championship.
4.  I identify myself with the greater Muslim community in the Netherlands.
5.  I would support the Dutch team over the Moroccan team in the event of a match.

We determined the correlation of the answers of the following questions: 
1 and 2; 1 and 3; 4 and 5.  

Allochtonen – Moroccan:

1.  I feel welcome in Dutch society by the autochtonen population.
2.  I supported the Dutch national football team in the European Championship.
3.  I supported the Dutch national football team more than the Turkish national
football team in the European Championship.
4.  I identify myself with the greater Muslim community in the Netherlands.

We determined the correlation of the answers of the following questions: 
1 and 4; 2 and 3  


1.  I approve of the idea of a multicultural Dutch society.
2.  I regularly have personal contact with people of a different ethnicity.
3.  I supported the Dutch and the Turkish teams in the European Championship.
4.  I support European teams fronting players with an international background.
5.  When the Netherlands was out, I supported the Turkish national team.
6.  I am happy that the Turks advanced as far as they did in the European Championship.

We determined the correlation of the answers of the following questions: 
1 and 3; 1 and 4; 1 and 5; 1 and 6; 2 and 3; 2 and 4; 2 and 5; 2 and 6
We approached 20 autochtonen, 6 Turkish allochtonen, and 6 Moroccan allochtonen.   

Fever on the streets

What we found was that Turkish people in the Netherlands support both the Turkish and National Teams in the European Championship Finals 2008.  Furthermore, Turks who felt welcome by Dutch society were more likely to support the Dutch effort (correlation: .808). ‘If Turkey drops out, we’ll support the Dutch Team,’ said one student. A June 2008 article entitled ‘Orange-merchandising popular amongst allochtonen,’ which appeared in the Turkish-Dutch newspaper Zaman, presented the findings of a research done by Foquz Etnomarketing. Allochtonen spend around 10,3 million euros on Orange merchandise like flags, t-shirts, food, electronics etc.

This can be interpreted as evidence that integration can occur without either society losing its national identity; or, as according to professor E.J. Zürcher, it’s proof of how ‘superficial integration is’ in the Netherlands. A young Turkish man in Amsterdam-West notes that ‘Dutch people celebrate victories with beer; we celebrate with flags.’  The sale of Turkish flags is, indeed, a booming business.  While some Turks express ambivalence about which team to support (‘It’s like choosing between your father and your mother,’ says one girl), most individuals feel they cannot support the Dutch team at the Turks’ expense. Only ‘if Turkey drops out we’ll honk for the Dutch,’ says another Turkish girl.  Our results showed that even those Turks who felt welcomed by Dutch society were unlikely to support the Dutch team over the Turkish team (correlation: .485).  

Amsterdam’s native Dutch population was generally very supportive of the Turkish effort.  Most were happy that their ‘neighbors’ performed as well as they did, and a few supported the Turks after the Netherlands was out.  Many of those who did not support the Turkish effort admitted that they were not football fans and that their support for the Netherlands was only motivated by patriotism.  It seemed as if the European Championship was an opportunity for each population to reach out to the other. The Dutch website Toetermee.nl (‘honk along’), which was launched two days before the semi-finals of Turkey, shows the active involvement of some native Dutch people.  The creators of the website call on all the Dutch people to honk along in there cars during the celebrations ‘with our Turkish friends’ when Turkey wins. They say that they have been practicing in orange, but continue now in red. After all, ‘don’t all of us like partying?’ Our surveys revealed that the autochtonen population was generally positive regarding their support for the Turks.

The autochtonen population is also largely supportive of a mixed national football team.  A middle-aged Dutch woman said, ‘Maybe it’s a good mirror of the Dutch society. Their cultural background fades away.’ She also recognizes that there are limitations to this back-slapping: ‘If a Moroccan is making a winning goal, he’s Dutch. But if he misses a penalty he is not Dutch, he is Moroccan or Turkish. Then the race is obvious.’

Enthusiasm for the Turkish effort has to be taken with a grain of salt. ‘They [the Turks] are decent and pleasant people. But I don’t like them in my bar. This is an Orange-bar and we shouldn’t mix that,’ says a middle-aged native Dutch bar owner.  Not everybody is enthusiastic about the role of sports in the process of integration. France is generally shown as an example of a successful and diverse national team. Anthropologist Simon Kuper concludes that the colorful French national team (around ¾ non-white) has not contributed to a multicultural France, despite very successful performances. By the year 2000, France had won both the World Cup and the European Championship.  A survey by the French National Commission for Human Rights asked the French populace ‘whether they were too many players in the national team of foreign origin.’ Thirty-six percent answered ‘Yes.’  Conclusions drawn about France cannot necessarily be applied to the Netherlands, and it is difficult to conclude whether the native population’s views on integration affect their preferences.

The Moroccan example is interesting as it can help determine what motivates interaction between two minority groups in the Netherlands.  The Moroccans do not participate in the Championship. When asked about it, Abdullah, a young street coach in Slotervaart, says he supports Turkey because they are Muslims, but dislikes their loud celebrations after a victory. If Turkey would play the Netherlands, he would support the Turks because they are in the ‘same corner in society as us Moroccans.’  Several of the Moroccans we interviewed echoed this sentiment. However, nearly all of them admitted that they would support the Dutch team in a game against Turkey because the Dutch team fronts two players who have a Moroccan background (Ibrahim Afellay and Khalid Boulahrouz).  Although our statistical analysis showed a positive relationship between Moroccans feeling welcome and their support for the Dutch team (correlation: .831), this support can be described as superficial at best.

Our use of statistics was complicated by several factors: the sample size was not large enough to accurately cover the entire population; we only interviewed individuals from certain areas of Amsterdam and therefore may not have captured the full range of opinions; and our questions were not thorough enough to capture the subtleties or nuances of several of the answers.  For example, several individuals did not care about Turkey’s performance in the Championship, not out of aversion but because they only supported the Dutch team.  

Yet there is a lot to be said about the ability of football to facilitate integration in Dutch society. ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it is much more serious than that.’ William Shankly, the famous manager of Liverpool FC, was not far from the truth when he uttered these famous words. Football is at times more important to the Europeans than any other aspect of public life; however, football popularity is no longer a distinct trait of European cities. The sight of children kicking a ball in the park has become an every-day theme in cities across the world. One of them is certainly Istanbul, Turkey.

At the same time, the population of Turks in Western European nations, including the Netherlands, has been steadily increasing.  Those who spent their childhood in Turkey brought the football-playing tradition with them. Others, born in the Netherlands, were quick to adopt the most addictive habit of the European youth. Following the same logic of events, Moroccans in the Netherlands produced some top notch, world-class players. 

Some argue that the prerequisites for integration are the physical proximity of different groups and common interests. In the Netherlands, these conditions were met on the pitch. Football has increased the interaction between the allochtonen and the autochtonen populations, and a valid conclusion one can make is that the football pitch is the perfect place for integration. However, this is where Shankly’s words come centimetres close to the goal line, but never cross it. Football is a more serious matter than life and death to some football players and fans, and this applies to allochtonen and autochtonen alike. However, there are some details that must be taken into consideration before making any hasty conclusions. To understand what these details are, first we must attain the answer to some questions: What does the life of an autochtoon look like compared to the life of an allochtoon? How do their views on life differ and why?

Where Does the Ball Go from Here ?

Observing how the Dutch national team became more and more inclusive, fronting young star players of allochtoon background like Affelay and Boulahrouz, one could say that the integration process has finally reached its final stage. If the non-native players were invited to play for the national team, the symbol of the Dutch identity, the one thing every true Dutch can relate to and see him/herself a part of, how can there be any discrimination? What more can be done? The answer to this question and the real truth can be found closer to the ground.

The upcoming generation of immigrants is facing a totally new challenge with which their parents didn’t need to cope. Upon their arrival a couple of decades ago, the Dutch government had no intentions to integrate the newcomers. Now that it is obvious that the newcomers will, in the next generation, in fact have autochtoon children, integration has become the burden of the current immigrant youth.  Those who feel they are faced with the not-so-welcoming native Dutch population may turn to the country of origin of their parents for a sense of identity and community. There exists a medium to high positive correlation between the level of acceptance experienced by the Turks from the autochtoon population and the amount of support they give to the Dutch national team. Also, the amount of support they show for the Dutch team against Turkey (hypothetically) is far less than the amount of support they have for the Dutch team against other European teams. 

Feelings of alienation from Dutch society have surfaced in another portion of our research results. There exists a very high negative correlation between the feeling of belonging to a wider Muslim community and giving support to Dutch national team against another majority Muslim country.  The young Turkish community goes beyond the search for its ancestors’ identity; the Turkish nationalistic identity, never so dominant a trait of their parents’ identity, now becomes important just because it separates them from the native Dutch. In the case of the Moroccan population, it is overwhelmingly clear that the more the individual feels accepted by the autochtonen, the louder his support for the Dutch national team, even in the hypothetical instance of the Netherlands playing Turkey. Although reassuring, this fact cannot be taken as clear proof that integration works. After all, many cited that their support for the Netherlands is based solely on the fact that two of the Dutch players are of Moroccan descent. On how many occasions have the Netherlands and Morocco played important matches, and how many times were the Moroccans forced to choose? Unlike the Turkish Dutch, the Moroccan Dutch don’t feel the same need to relate to their nationalistic background as their safety net. 

In addition to these findings, we must not neglect the opinions of the native Dutch, or autochtoon population. After all, integration is supposed to be a two-way street. It is interesting to note that, while claiming to be very approving of the concept of a multicultural society, the same people often said that they would support a non-Turkish team over the Turkish team after the Dutch had been eliminated from the competition.  Moreover, the same people did not feel too enthusiastic about the other European teams who yielded players with multicultural background. How is this discrepancy to be explained? Do people really tend to find no link between multiculturalism and the football team that is not completely native? Or is it a more hopeful sign that race is not the first thing people look for in players?
Some believe that football might even reinforce traditional stereotypes rather than dispel them. Sociologist Claude Boli, an expert on black athletes, says: ‘It’s a stereotype that blacks are good at sports and music. So football doesn’t fight discrimination. On the contrary, it confirms stereotypes.’ Despite the successes of athletes like Muhammad Ali (voted greatest sportsman of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated and the BBC), Michael Jordan, Serena Williams and Tiger Woods, black people in America still face racial prejudices and discrimination. One might argue that the same goes for the Netherlands and Europe. This means that higher representation in sports can fail to foster the integration process, and may even lead to the opposite effect.

It is easy to have a bleak view of the future of football as a device of integration. The numbers point to allochtoon youth distancing themselves from the country of their birth, to the native population not wanting to truly accept the allochtonen despite declaring themselves tolerant of other cultures, and to increasing polarization that emerges from mutual, irrational fear of those who are different. On the other hand, the symbolic participation of players like Ibrahim Affelay and Khalid Boulahrouz has indeed led to an increased visibility of a pluralistic society and could have a positive, long-term effect. 

In conclusion, our research has yielded more new inquires than it has offered in precise answers. The period of duration of the European Championship was a short-term window into the more truthful and realistic reactions of the people in the Netherlands. We can now expect for the passions to subside and for the people to go about living their usual lives with less excitement coming from the football fever. Football itself may have a very ambiguous role in the very complicated and intricate process of integration, but we can say without a hint of doubt that it proves time and time again to be an excellent sublimation of the emotions lurking beneath the surface of public opinions. We will unfortunately have to wait another two long years until the next World Championship to see the next fireworks of these fevers, including Moroccan Fever, and find out to which degree and in favor of what they have changed.



Thirty-two street interviews in Amsterdam.
Prof.dr. E.J. Zurcher, Turkish and Turkish Culture at the University of Leiden.


  ‘Geen integratie’ (by anthropologist Simon Kuper), Vrij Nederland, June 14th 2008. 
Kuper, S.; ‘Football against the Enemy’, United Kingdom, 2003. 
‘Orange-merchandising popular amongst allochtonen’, Turkish-Dutch newspaper Zaman,           June 2008.


http://www.toetermeemetdeturken.nl (June 22th 2008)
http://www.nrc.nl/binnenland/article1919146.ece/EK_voetbal_toont_twee_liefdes_van_Turkse_Nederlander (June 20th 2008)
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Netherlands Netherlands 2008


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