Nazi Ties May Force Athletes to Take Democracy Vow

Germany may force athletes to make a commitment to democracy; announcement comes days after national rower left Olympics over neo-Nazi ties

Rachel Hirshfeld ,

Nadja Drygalla
Nadja Drygalla

Germany may force its athletes to make a commitment to democracy, a ministry spokesman said on Tuesday.

The announcement comes days after national rower Nadja Drygalla was forced to leave Olympic village following reports that her boyfriend has been a member of the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD).

While Drygalla denies harboring far-right views herself, the incident has ignited a debate in Germany regarding extremism in sports. 

Last year's discovery that a neo-Nazi cell was responsible for the seemingly unrelated murders of nine Turkish and Greek immigrants has triggered soul-searching in Germany about institutionalized tolerance of right-wing extremism, Reuters reported.

As part of a regular review of guidelines on sport funding, the Interior Ministry is considering insisting that top clubs and associations make a formal commitment to democratic values.

"This is a question that arose at the end of last year ... and we are considering it in our review," a spokesman said. "It is not in any way related to the Drygalla case. Right-wing extremism in German sport has been a concern for a long time."

Campaign groups have long warned that neo-Nazis try to recruit supporters through youth and sports clubs, especially in parts of former Communist eastern Germany where unemployment levels are high, according to Reuters.

Drygalla’s boyfriend, Michael Fischer, reportedly stood up in support of the NPD in an election in the northeastern city of Rostock last year.

Drygalla told the news agency DPA that Fischer had left the NPD in May and quit the far-right scene. She said she had told him she did not share his views, and the issue had strained their relationship.

The NPD, which has representatives in two state assemblies despite groups with explicit neo-Nazi ideologies being banned in Germany, is said to be far more extreme than other populist, anti-immigration parties in Britain, France and the Netherlands. The national intelligence agency monitors its members and describes it as racist, anti-Semitic, revisionist and inspired by Hitler's Nazi ideology.

While some media and German politicians have described the Drygalla case as a “witch hunt,” claiming that it is a private matter who a sportsperson's friends are, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said the matter needed to be cleared up.

"Extremist views have no place in sport. Sportspeople are role models," he told the mass-circulation daily Bild.