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Sports

German rower allowed to join military

After causing a furor at the London Olympics, a German rower was accepted into the Bundeswehr's sports promotion program. Critics said her boyfriend's contacts to far-right neo-Nazis made her unfit to represent Germany.

ARCHIV - Die deutsche Ruderin Nadja Drygalla, aufgenommen am 18.09.2011 bei der Ruder-EM im bulgarischen Plovdiv. Die Ruderin Nadja Drygalla hat am Donnerstag (02.08.2012) das Olympische Dorf in London verlassen. Dies teilte der Deutsche Olympische Sportbund (DOSB) in der Nacht zum Freitag mit. Foto: EPA/VASSIL DONEV dpa

Nadja Drygalla

The case dominated German headlines in August: During the London Olympic Games, German rower Nadja Drygalla was found to be in a relationship with a former member of the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD). In 2011, her partner, Michael Fischer, ran for a seat in a state parliament as an NPD candidate. The discovery set off a debate over whether Drygalla was an acceptable choice to represent Germany at the Olympics.

Drygalla publically distanced herself from far-right ideology, and her partner, according to Drygalla, resigned from the NPD in 2012 and broke off ties to neo-Nazis. The athlete still, however, decided to leave the Olympic Village in London ahead of schedule.

Sports associations support Drygalla

German soldiers stretching Photo: dpa

For Drygalla it'll be basic training first - then rowing training

Before the Games in London, the German Rowing Association applied to the German Military's Sport Promotion program on Drygalla's behalf. Due to the outcry over potential ties to the far-right, the program put off a ruling on the application. The Defense Ministry requested the German Olympic Sports Federation (DOSB) to issue its opinion on the case as approval from the DOSB and applicable sporting associations are required before the military can open its ranks to athletes.

The German Military has trained solider-athletes since 1968. As there are only a handful of sports where athletes can only make a living from prize money and sponsorships, the Bundeswehr has offered talented athletes the opportunity to join the military and train under better conditions than would be otherwise available elsewhere and represent Germany at international sporting events. After two months of basic training, the athlete-soldiers no longer live in barracks but stay at home or near Olympic training facilities. There are currently about 744 top athletes in the Bundeswehr's ranks. The sports promotion program costs about 32 million euros ($41 million) per year.

Among Germany's elite rowers

Michael Vesper, the DOSB's director general, gave his approval to Drygalla joining the Bundeswehr's sports program.

Michael Vester
AP Photo/Martin Meissner

Vesper gave his support to Drygalla

"Nadja Drygalla belongs among the elite German rowers," he told DW. "It is good that has been made clear and that she will again be able to row at the international level."

Vesper, a former Green party politician, added that Drygalla should not be burdened with her partner's political views, "In my assessment of her, it is what she herself does and says that matters."

Based partially on the approvals given by the DOSB and German Rowing Association, the Bundeswehr accepted Drygalla into its program as of November 1. Due to the public attention she received during the Olympic Games, the military paid "very close attention" to make sure it followed its regulations before accepting Drygalla, spokesman Lt. Col. Ludger Terbrüggen told DW.

"After meetings with Ms. Drygalla, there was no indication or reason for the Bundeswehr to reject the application," he said. "Ms. Drygalla clearly distanced herself from radical right-wing ideology."

Parliamentary concern

Nadja Drygalla. Copyright: INSIDE-PICTURE/Lutz Bongarts

Drygalla's lawyer said she was pleased to join the military

For Jens Petermann, a member of the German parliament's Sports Committee from the Left party, there are still questions about Drygalla that have not been answered. While he said no single case should be overstated, the larger issue of right-wing extremism in sports clubs and associations needed to be addressed. The Office for the Protection of the Constitution in the state of Brandenburg warned in its annual report that neo-Nazis were infiltrating kickboxing and martial arts clubs.

For Drygalla, being accepted to the military's sport's promotion program is a way of wiping the slate clean. "Ms. Drygalla is pleased and relieved," the 23-year-old's lawyer said.

Her training at the German Air Force military police school begins Thursday and she stands a good chance of representing Germany on the rowing team that will be sent to the Rio Olympics in 2016.

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