Monday, November 26, 2007

Neo-Nazi Goons Spread the Love to the Soccer Pitch

I guess fading quietly into the night and becoming normal, productive members of society is out of the questions for these insidious punks.

Now they have to go about ruining sporting events.

Regional Football Battles against Neo-Nazi Influence
Hardly a weekend goes by in Germany without some sort of racist incident on the football pitch or in the stands. A new program in Germany aims to combat neo-Nazi influence among soccer fans.

Sometimes, words simply aren't enough. Last month, the multicultural Berlin football club Türkiyemspor was in Rathenow west of the capital for a regional league match. The atmosphere was tense, and became even worse once the opening whistle blew. Almost immediately, one of the Turkish players got in the face of a fan who had insulted him. "It almost turned ugly," says Mehmet Matur. "I jumped in between them and was able to calm the situation down."

Matur, 47, isn't a player. Rather, he is the so-called integration officer for the Berlin Football Association. His primary duty is that of leading the fight against racism on Berlin football pitches. Normally, he relies on his voice, but sometimes, like last month, there is no choice but to get physical. "That is the last resort," he says.

The problem of racism on German soccer fields is one that has gotten worse and worse in recent years. There have been numerous cases of fans chanting ape noises at black players. Mass punch ups involving right-wing extremists after second and third league games have become more common. There was even a case last summer of fans firing off a torrent of anti-Semitic abuse at two teams of 14-year-olds.
Isn't that special?

Even though they've had programs to combat this idiocy, the problem is far from being eliminated.
How soccer clubs can resist such infiltration was an important topic this weekend in Halle. Though the neo-Nazis appear less menacing without Third Reich flags and combat boots, they often work with codes and symbols. The number 18, for example, stands for "Adolf Hitler," and 88 for "Heil Hitler," based on the position of the letters in the alphabet. Neo-Nazis are also geared up with the token marks of the alternative left: black hoodies and peaked caps, for example, are worn by extreme right-wingers. A picture of Che Guevara qualifies as a symbol for the national fight for liberation. A seminar entitled "Is the Jersey Number 88 Taboo?" aimed at helping coaches and referees identify such symbols.

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