August 7, 2012 / 3:08 PM / 8 years ago

Germany may demand democracy pledges after rower quit Olympics

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany may force sports stars to make a commitment to democracy, a ministry spokesman said on Tuesday, days after a national rower quit the Olympic village following reports that her boyfriend was a neo-Nazi.

Germany's Nadja Drygalla prepares for a training session at Eton Dorney before the London 2012 Olympic Games July 25, 2012. REUTERS/Jim Young

The case of Nadja Drygalla, whose partner has been a member of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), has ignited a debate in Germany about extremism in sport, although the rower denies holding far-right views herself.

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.

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.

Drygalla, whose rowing eight had already been eliminated from the competition, left the Olympic village on Friday after talks with the German Olympic Committee about reports that her boyfriend had links to a neo-Nazi group.

The boyfriend, Michael Fischer, stood for 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 has representatives in two state assemblies and has defied attempts to ban it.

It is 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.

Groups with explicit neo-Nazi ideology are banned in Germany.

Some media have described the Drygalla case as a witch hunt and several politicians, including Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere, have defended her, saying it is a private matter who a sportsperson’s friends are.

However, Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich has been more circumspect, saying merely that 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.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers

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