with Alvin Sallay
Kaiserslautern: The brotherhood of man is on display in Germany. The global game of soccer is breaking down the boundaries of racism, and bridging the cultural divide across England.
The evidence is in the large numbers of English fans of Asian parentage. They wear the red and white shirts with the three lions, and proudly wave the flag with the cross of St George. They cheer for England.
What's happening here? Mohammed Akbar, a 27-year-old psychiatrist nurse studying to become a doctor, comes from Reading near London and loves Liverpool and England. 'Yes, I support England, hopefully all the way to the finals in Berlin,' he says. 'My parents are Indians who live in Madagascar, but I have lived in England for the past 10 years and I consider myself as being an Englishman.'
Akbar says he is part of a growing band of Asians who consider themselves as not Pakistanis, or Indians, or Sri Lankans, but simply Englishmen and women. 'I know many people from my dad's generation who used to go to cricket matches and support India or Pakistan, and not England,' he says. 'These people have been living in the UK for many years and they still cling to their former culture and identities. While it is OK to some lengths to keep your own identity and heritage, we should also try and integrate with the culture of our new home. And I'm glad to say this is happening with the younger generations,' says Akbar.
Sport is helping break down years of mistrust between cultures in England, he adds. Barriers fall more easily, especially when people of one's own background are representing England. Like in cricket, where England have recently fielded players like Monty Panesar (a Sikh with a full beard and locks) and Sajid Mahmood (of Pakistani origin).
Soccer hasn't quite got that far. But that doesn't matter to Akbar. He says that when England play, he will back them all the way. 'It might take many years before you see England being represented in football by a player of Asian ethnicity, but as far as I'm concerned, this is my team,' he says.
Akbar is a Muslim, married to an Irish Catholic. 'We are expecting our first child in December. It will be up to him or her to decide later as to what religion to follow. Religion is not an issue for me. I live in England which is totally multicultural and I want my children to have the freedom of choice. I don't feel left out or ignored by my friends. Football has made it easier for me and others like me to integrate in England.'
Fifa, soccer's ruling body, has pointed to England as a multi-cultural role model. At the start of every game, the centre-field is covered in a large round piece of cloth which proudly proclaims the twin edicts of this tournament - 'A time to make friends' and 'Say no to racism'.
'The England of today is unlike the England of yesteryear. Now you will find more of a mix of fans supporting England. This is healthy and shows the public that everyone is pulling together for the good of the country,' says Damien Talbot from Coventry.
Number of the Day: 5. As a Muslim, Akbar has to pray five times a day, each prayer lasting no longer than five minutes. But English fans are praying 90 minutes at a stretch, whenever their side takes the field. So far their prayers have been answered.