Sportsman and politics: kretzschmar lacks freedom of speech

In an interview, ex-professional handball player Stefan Kretzschmar uses a right-wing narrative. He’s allowed to do that, but he also has to put up with criticism.

You can still say that, can’t you? Yep. But then it sucks. Photo: dpa

That’s the way it is when you say something today that not everyone likes. You get hyped up in the social media – or grilled. It happened to Robert Habeck, the leader of the Green Party, after he spread some nonsense about Thuringia, and now it’s happened to Stefan Kretzschmar, the sports icon, the winner of an Olympic silver medal, one of the few super celebrities the sport of handball has produced.

He said that there was no longer any real freedom of expression for athletes. For this, he is celebrated by AfD party supporters and other right-wingers. For this, he is grilled by all those who simply note that someone who makes his opinion known in an interview that attracts national attention cannot truly claim that he is not allowed to say what he thinks.

The fact that people often don’t look closely enough at what the people to whom hearts or hatred fly in the social media have really said during these celebrations and barbecues is a problem that Stefan Kretzschmar himself addressed in his interview with t-online. "You get punched in the face for every comment," he says there, showing understanding for the fact that so few athletes express themselves in a decidedly political or socially critical way. He’s certainly right about that. And there are many more reasons why it’s not necessarily athletes who are the source of social change.

Competitive sports are an adaptation machine that is very much about discipline and following instructions. Those who don’t end up on a professional team early on often increase the country’s fame in sporting competition as members of the armed forces or the federal police. Sponsors and clubs also expect athletes to play sports and not do anything else, and they in turn have to act in the interests of their sponsors.

No one will expect a politically motivated revolt by the soccer players of FC Bayern Munich against a training camp in Qatar. So Stefan Kretzschmar is right when he says that athletes perhaps too often feel they are not allowed to say what they might want to say.

The fact that he received applause from the right and was mobbed from the left is due to another part of the interview, a video of which was shared en masse on the Internet. Kretzschmar says that athletes can only make political statements that do not run counter to the social mainstream. He cites "We are colorful" and "Refugees welcome" as examples. In times when there is no relevant political party that does not say "Foreigners out!" in some way, he has to put up with the question of how he comes up with this. It’s a right-wing narrative that he’s using. Is he allowed to do that? Of course he is. But it has consequences.