BERLIN — In an effort to counter the growing presence of extremists in combat sports, the World Jewish Congress this weekend launched a pilot program that embodies inclusion in the world of competitive fighting.
The event, a joint project of WJC and Vollkontakt, a German group that seeks to counter the extreme right’s grip on combat sports, was held at the Haus des Deutschen Sports, which Adolf Hitler built as part of the complex that hosted the 1936 Olympics. Organizers of the event, “Diversity in Combat Sports,” said they deliberately chose the venue to reclaim sport from the forces of hate.
This weekend’s gathering in Berlin signaled WJC’s intention to delink far right ideology from mixed martial arts (MMA) and other combat sports, such as Brazilian Jujutsu and Goshindo, in Germany, where antisemitism is on the rise despite the country’s history, and internationally.
Extremists have turned to combat sports as a vehicle to recruit and indoctrinate new followers. Attempts to disrupt this phenomenon have been few and small-scale, though German investigators in April arrested members of the far-right marital arts group Knockout 51.
“The presence of extremism in combat sports fuels antisemitism, racism, sexism and violence and cannot continue to go unchecked,” said Amber Weinber, a WJC expert on antisemitism, who took part in a panel on that subject. “Impressionable young people need to understand that they can love their sport without hating anyone. Hate groups cannot exploit popular culture for their own ends.”
On the first day of the event, facilitated by Vollkontakt, gym owners, trainers, and amateur and retired athletes, among others, attended seminars on countering racism, antisemitism and other forms of xenophobia and on how to recognize signs of radicalization and far-right propaganda.
Robert Claus of Vollkontakt, an author who tracks right-wing hate groups, addressed conference-goers: “Far right extremists have made their ideology even more attractive by professionalizing combat sports with such appealing features as clothing brands, the skillful use of social media and a network of likeminded gyms. Those who want to counter hate and promote diversity in combat sports must recognize this fact and provide a compelling alternative.”
Sparring and other forms of combat sports training took place on the second day of the gathering, which was facilitated by the World Jewish Congress. The initiative is supported by other groups, including the German government. Vollkontakt is supported by the federal program “Demokratie leben!” the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the Niedersächsische Lotto-Sport-Stiftung, the deutsche Sportjugend, the Amadeu Antonio Stiftung, the Koordinationsstelle Fanprojekte and the Kompetenzgruppe Fankulturen und Sport bezogene Soziale Arbeit.
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West End Strategy Team