A scandal has erupted in London over the alleged association of a German athlete with neo-Nazi elements back home. Nadja Drygalla, a member of the German women's eight Olympic rowing team has left the Olympic Village, according to a press release issued by the German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) Thursday night.
Although the release did not specify the reasons for her sudden departure, German public broadcaster ARD reports that the 23-year-old ex-police officer is suspected of sympathizing with right-wing extremist ideology and of being associated with an official from the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD), which authorities describe as racist, revisionist, hostile to the constitution and sympathetic to extremist right-wing ideology. The party is, however, legal and has representatives in both state and municipal assemblies, primarily in eastern Germany.
According to the press release, the native of the northeastern city of Rostock "credibly confirmed that she subscribes to the values of the Olympic Charter and the principles laid down in the preamble of the DOSB bylaws." Drygalla then reportedly decided on her own to leave the Olympic Village to avoid any possible distractions for the German Olympic squad. Vesper said that team managers "welcome this step."
In the press release, Vesper said that the managers of the German Olympic squad had only learned of "findings related to the private environment" of Drygalla on Thursday. He added that this led to a "detailed and intense conversation" of over 90 minutes with Drygalla attended by Mario Woldt, the sports director of the German Rowing Federation (DRV).
Urging No Early Judgment
German Olympic officials held a press conference on Friday morning at the German House, where the DOSB and its sponsors provide VIP hospitality in London for the games. There, DOSB director general Michael Vesper said that Drygalla had left no doubt "that she firmly stood not only for the constitution, but also for the Olympic values."
Vesper also rejected charges of guilt by association. "In Germany, thank God, there is the principle that each is responsible for one's own deeds and not for one's surroundings." It would be unjust, he continued, "to define another person based on their personal surroundings," adding that what is important for him is "how she thinks and acts."
Although admitting that "the story is not without problems," Vesper also used the occasion to defend German Olympic officials. "If we had had even the slightest indication that someone in our squad was xenophopic, this person wouldn't have been on the Olympic squad," he told the German sports news agency SID.
DRV President Siegfried Kaidel told the German news agency DPA that Drygalla had "affirmed several times that she had nothing to do with the far-right scene."
Drygalla was in London with the German women's eight rowing team, which was eliminated in the second round on Tuesday.
The DRV has announced that it intends to investigate Drygalla's private life once the games have concluded, after which it will decide upon any possible consequences. DRV President Siegfried Kaidel told the SID on Friday that "we will speak with her in peace once we are back home" and that she will be allowed to continue to be associated with the organization if nothing comes of the investigation. However, he echoed Vesper's calls against making premature judgments. "One can't condemn her out of hand," he said. "We never had any indications that there was anything to the accusations."
Indeed, accusations against the German rower are not new, according to the German public broadcaster NDR. It says that rumors were already making the rounds last year that Drygalla was in a relationship with a leading member of "National Socialists Rostock," a regional neo-Nazi organization, who also frequently contributed to a website associated with the NPD. Drygalla subsequently left the police force in September 2011, reportedly of her own volition.