As a competitor in the 2014 World Cup tournament, the German national team would like to concentrate on what's happening on the field, but off-field events outside the team's control have become an ugly distraction.
During Saturday's match between Germany and Ghana, which ended in a 2-2 draw, a photo went viral of two fans in the stands in Brazil wearing blackface and T-shirts with the word "Ghana" hand-scribbled on them.
The photo, according to the Guardian, depicted "smiling Germany fans with blacked up faces wearing T-shirts on which they had felt-tipped the names of their opponents." That version of the event was repeated by many other news outlets, increasing the pressure on Germany to respond. Eventually FIFA, the international soccer association, said its disciplinary committee would look into punishment if the fans' attire was deemed to be a discriminatory act.
Also during the Germany-Ghana match, a shirtless German fan ran onto the pitch with neo-Nazi symbols scrawled on his chest, including an "HH" for "Heil Hitler" and an "SS" for Schutzstaffel, the elite Nazi paramilitary squad.
Ghana player Sulley Muntari escorted the man off the field. He was widely reported to be a Nazi-sympathizing German fan intent on spreading a message of hate.
“The question becomes how does one control an individual fan who chooses to mark his body and jumps on the pitch to propagate his neo-Nazi views," said Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) director Piara Powar. "It’s a failure in the FIFA [security] system [that he got] as far as he did.”
FARE also complained to FIFA about neo-Nazi signs at games involving Russia and Croatia. And FIFA is investigating alleged homophobic chants by the crowd at the Mexico-Brazil game last week. The teams could be disciplined.
The nationalities of the fans in blackface have not been confirmed. And the man with the "neo-Nazi" markings "was a bartender from Poland, with the ridiculous plan of publicising his email address in order to raise money for his flight home after the World Cup," the Independent reported, citing the man's own words as well as Brazilian news stories.
Concerns about discrimination -- and Nazism in particular -- began even before the tournament started, when a 1934 German national team jersey bearing a silver swastika went on display in an exhibit of more than 100 original and replica World Cup jerseys in Salvador, Brazil, drawing criticism from around the world.
The German team has been tagged, fairly or not, with the most offensive incidents. But there's plenty of criticism to go around.