Germany’s Euro ‘SS’ football shirt was an own goal Adidas should have seen coming

Germany’s Euro ‘SS’ football shirt was an own goal Adidas should have seen coming

It is true that the number “44” on the new German football strip does look a bit like the Nazi “SS” symbol – and that Adidas, the company responsible for the unfortunate stylistic coincidence, is quite right to have blocked sales of that particular number to fans.

At the same time, I also find it hard to believe that any football fan would want to attend Euro 2024 wearing such an offensive symbol, not least because it’s again the law in Germany.

There are, sadly, neo-Nazis who’ve found ways around the anti-Nazi legislation, adopting Gothic-style regalia dating from the Wilhelmine era, and wearing the style of brown shorts and leather trench coats favoured by Hitler’s thugs. Presumably, for a laugh, they’d like to order a German football top with the 44/SS on the back with the name “HIMMLER” across the top.

The danger, perhaps not confined to Germany, is small – but real. The 44/SS thing looks to be a silly oversight rather than the work of some latter-day Werwolf. Execs at Adidas were right to execute a hard sliding tackle on this one before it got into the penalty area – but shouldn’t someone have seen it off much, much sooner?

Companies such as Adidas – ie all German concerns that can trace their origins back to before the war – have to especially careful about their products and their presentation, because they were all caught up in the totalitarian regime, whether they liked it or not.

As it happens, the founders of Adidas, Adi and Rudi Dassler (hence “Adi-Das) joined the National Socialist Party in 1933, the year Hitler came to power, which suggest they weren’t early adopters of his vile, racist ideologies, but were doing it for more purely commercial motives – which is no excuse. At any rate, like so many other firms, the past has at least left them with a heightened obligation of care, and to disassociate themselves from antisemitism.

They do mistakes, as we all do. The most recent time they had to do this was when they cancelled their sponsorship connections with Kanye West, after the rapper made some wild anti-Jewish remarks. Adidas was criticised for moving too slowly, but they eventually did the right thing, dissolving its partnership with his Yeezy brand in 2022 and selling off hundreds of millions of dollars-worth of remaindered stock at cost, in order to donate the proceeds to anti-racist charities.

Last year, the sportwear brand withdrew its opposition to an application for a Black Lives Matters trademark that features three parallel yellow stripes. Adidas had protested that it bore a similarity with its famous ‘trefoil’ logo, which has been in circulation since 1952, and that the proposed Black Lives Matters’ logo could be confused for its own.

As for the the ‘SS’ ensign and the swastika, all symbols of the Third Reich have long been banned in Germany by law. It’s always been a bit uncomfortable that the same hasn’t been true in Britain, too. You could put it down to the traditions of free speech, national self-confidence and the fact that, for the first few decades after the war, no one in their right mind would be seen out and about looking like they’ve just been involved in the Munich Beer Hall Putsch. Then came Sid Vicious and his Nazi flag T-shirts, which were more about a nihilistic desire to shock the bourgeoisie. Nothing Sid did was ever exactly “thought through”, let’s say.

I certainly cannot recall the last time I saw a swastika, aside from flying from a Hindu temple. I certainly cannot recall the last time I saw a swastika, aside from flying in pennant form from a Hindu temple. (That, of course, being the original, benign, ‘good luck’ swastika symbol, appropriated and perverted by the Nazis into a symbol of hate).

Nowadays, our neo-Nazis prefer to use tangential swastika-alike emblems; a few have attempted to revive the “thunderbolt” flag of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, derided by sensible folk in the 1930s as “the flash in the pan”, which of course what they were.

Nazi ensignia, then, ought not to alarm us – except that we live, once again, in antisemitic times, and the sight of a swastika on a pro-Palestinian march in London should give one pause for thought. Fortunately, the police do seem to have the powers to intervene, where safe, and the common sense to use them appropriately. The time has not yet come when the British need to ban flags and emblems as such.

To be on the safe side, let’s just hope the Germans get to play more often in their new second strip, which is pink.

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