During the European Championship you will travel to stadiums all over Europe with Bastian Schweinsteiger. How close will you be to coaches and players?
We assume that we will hardly have any personal contact with coaches and players. We have firmly assigned positions with a view of the field, but we cannot interview players and coaches after a game in the so-called mixed zone as usual. Usually we will only get the opportunity to interview someone from a reasonable distance.
Some countries require quarantine upon entry, others do not. How does this affect your work?
We have already had to change our travel plan. We wanted to travel to London from the opening game in Rome, but due to the strict entry requirements when returning to Germany, we changed the plan and instead fly from Rome to Amsterdam. We have to be very flexible. The emergency plan is always: We go to the Cologne studio.
This European Championship is very controversial as teams, reporters and fans travel across Europe. Why are you participating?
Basically, I’m looking forward to being back in a stadium with an audience as a sports reporter. Because the spectators, the fans are the basis of this sport. We are of course keeping an eye on the situation. At the moment the situation is changing practically every day, the incidences are falling, the regulations are being adjusted. If, however, as in previous months, UEFA puts pressure on individual cities because it wants to get the spectators into the stadiums under all circumstances, I am no longer sure whether the fans are still the base or just the backdrop for this event To be ensured in terms of PR. We will see how the admission controls are, how the hygiene concepts are adhered to, how fans are dealt with. That will also be part of our reporting. There will be and cannot be a slippery show from the stadiums in our program. As reporters and moderators, we will always critically question the circumstances.
You once said: For me, sport is almost always a highly political matter. What signal does a European football championship send in times of pandemic?
In our small, affluent Europe, UEFA would like this to be the start of a new life, life after the pandemic. In the very best case, if Corona doesn’t give us a trick, it could be that way too. From a societal perspective, however, this falls far too short. In Asia, for example, the situation is completely different, the Olympic Games are still on the brink. In this respect, I find it naive to say that we will end this bad phase with this European football championship. It would be nice if UEFA didn’t just focus on Europe.
Journalism in football sometimes comes across as very unjournalistic: many reporters use “deuce” on players and coaches. How important is journalistic distance to you?
I see myself clearly as a journalist, and I’m not only involved in sports, but also in politics. I always ask myself: If you appear so buddy and create a feel-good atmosphere, how can you ask the same athletes about a doping scandal two weeks later? Letting the familiar hang out in such an athlete-reporter relationship no longer works for me – and neither does it for many other colleagues. Perhaps that was possible in a sports world 15–20 years ago because at that time socially critical topics were mostly left out. But it’s not that easy for a sports journalist to have journalistic distance. When I first reported about the Olympic Games, I received critical mail from the audience. People wrote that now the Olympic champion is sitting on Frau Wellmer’s sofa, and she’s still hooking it up in a weird way, she’s not happy at all. That seemed a bit arrogant. I had to learn to find a middle ground.
If an interview with a footballer is to be authorized, the press office sometimes completely rewrites it. What do you think of this authorization practice?