Soccer player Michael Ballack is one of the German celebrities lending his voice to a new campaign against neo-Nazism this week. One of its aims is to stop the far-right infiltrating sports' clubs.
Top German soccer officials at the launch of the campaign against neo-Nazis
"I'm against Nazis because they don't appear to have learned anything from German history," explains the German captain and Chelsea midfielder in a 10-second soundbite on the Web site Netz-gegen-Nazis (Network Against Nazis).
TV presenter Marietta Slomka and talk show host Maybrit Illner are among the other high-profile Germans featured online.
The interactive Internet platform, launched by the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit on Monday, May 5, is at the heart of the project. It contains extensive information about the subject -- including up-to-date news reports about right-wing extremism --, a forum where users can seek advice and swap facts and links to advice centers and support groups.
"We're aiming to create a nationwide forum where people who encounter far-right ideas in their day-to-day lives can give each other advice," said Giovanni di Lorenzo, the newspaper's editor-in-chief.
Together we are strong
Germany captain Michael Ballack is one of the campaign's figureheads
The weekly newspaper has joined forces with a number of other partners to forge the anti-far-right alliance. The sporting organizations involved include the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), the German Soccer Federation (DFB) and the German Soccer League (DFL). Media partners include the German broadcaster ZDF and online portals, schuelerVZ, studiVZ and meinVZ.
The involvement of the sporting bodies reflects rising concern about far-right parties using the cover of leisure activities to spread their ideas among young people, in particular.
"Right-wing extremism poses a great threat to an association like the German Soccer Federation because of its clubs' grass-roots and volunteer-based structures," said the head of the DFB, Theo Zwanziger.
Not just football tactics, but lessons for life
German soccer has already been involved in a number of anti-racist initiatives
He added that the point of the Network Against Nazis was to inform and to encourage civil courage.
"As well as teaching the one-two and the bicycle kick, we have to communicate the message that it is worthwhile living in a democratic state," said Zwanziger. But it is not only the budding players who are being targeted; he also mentioned special training sessions for coaches.
A number of high profile events will be taking place in games in both German football leagues on Tuesday, May 6, and Wednesday, to publicize the initiative. An ad featuring Ballack's soundbite will also be shown in all stadiums.
The DFB has also announced that the national squad would also be helping to spread this message in upcoming games against Serbia and Belarus. It did not reveal any further details.
Ingo Weiss, head of the German Olympic Sports Confederation, said that it was about turning the 27 million or so DOSB members into "vigilant lions" so that the horrors of the Nazi era could never be repeated.
German Integration Minister Maria Boehmer welcomed the project. In a statement she said that media and sport carried a particular responsibility in the fight against right-wing extremism and xenophobia because of their ability to reach a wide audience.