A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke

Ronald Reng's biography of the late German national goalkeeper is William Hill Sports Book of the Ye

As the sporting world digests the news of the death of Gary Speed, the former Leeds and Newcastle midfielder and lattermanager of the Welsh national team, the William Hill Sports Book of the Year has been awarded to the German sports writer Ronald Reng for A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke. The biography of the late Robert Enke, Reng's and German national team goalkeeper, was praised by the judges "for its powerful and insightful nature as well as its sensitivity and sincerity." It is the first translated title to win the prize. The book was first published in Germany (as Robert Enke: Ein allzu kurzes Leben), received widespread praise and soon became an international bestseller.

Graham Sharpe, the co-founder of the prize and the chairman of the judging panel, stated that:

Robert Enke was one of Germany's greatest goalkeepers and his tragic death shocked the world. Ronald Reng's intimate portrait - vivid, powerful and moving - is an outstanding piece of sportswriting and a very worthy winner of the prize.

The other judges were broadcaster and writer John Inverdale, award-winning journalist Hugh McIlvanney, broadcaster Danny Kelly and columnist and author Alyson Rudd.

In the NS's review of the book, Simon Kuper finds it to be "At times ... almost unbearably painful to read ... but this is the mature work of a writer who has gone far beyond sensationalism. It allows you to turn back and read football differently ... [It is] not just about Enke and depression, but about the stress that pervades most footballers' lives." Kuper notes that "Enke's widow gave him [Reng] the dead man's diaries and the poems he had written on his mobile ... Reng writes, 'I have deliberately excluded passages [from the diaries] that I see as too revealing.' Not many biographers would do that."

In September, Jonathan Derbyshire talked to Ronald Reng Enke's tragic life and death. Before Enke's suicide, he and Reng had agreed to work on the former's autobiography, although they never discussed the footballer's depression. Describing the national mourning in Germany which followed Enke's death, Reng said that "I was certainly taken aback. There was a feeling of not knowing what to make of it, and a lot of people were absolutely moved by his death and they wanted to show their grief ... This was something totally new in Germany - a big crowd gathering together to mourn." Reng told Derbyshire how "he [Enke] and [his wife] Teresa had this vision, a dream scenario, that one day Robert would have moved to Lisbon and we would all sit on a roof terrace and contemplate his autobiography."

"A Life Too Short" is published by Yellow Jersey Press.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.