Sport has always constituted an important area of social life, which reflects tendencies of social and political course of a nation. International and local sporting events do not always represent sport values, on the contrary, they echo social vices, which are not discussed openly by politicians.
Nowadays, sport is a tool to influence a large audience. It’s a classic example of the very Soft Power which has been the subject of many studies since Joseph Nye coined the term. And this is not just about the Olympics and World Cups which are politicized as much as possible.
Several weeks ago, an outrageous incident occurred in Ukraine which remained unnoticed abroad. Only a few concerned people unsuccessfully attempted to raise public awareness. On July 18th, there were sports competitions in Novomirgorod devoted to the City Day. Among the activities a pick-up basketball game was held. One of the youth teams had the name “Hitlerites”. Under this name the team was registered by the organizers of the event. Under this name the team was greeted by the local audience. The police were present and didn’t even react to the undisguised Nazi propaganda. Only one bystander, Igor Nemirovsky, was shocked by the whole thing. Thanks to him, the incident became known to a wider Ukrainian public.
“Good afternoon, Novomirgorod residents. Today, when I came with my son to the city center we saw a streetball game which took place nearby the amusement park. We decided to watch the children’s game. After the girls team, two boys teams from Novomirgorod came up. Organizers of the event announced, “Next teams are “Phoenix” and “Hitlerites”. I was thinking that I misheard, but when the game was over they announced again “Hitlerites” … Surely I didn’t mishear. To be convinced of that, I asked some guys who were in the area about the team name. Giggling and laughing, they confirmed that the name was “Hitlerites” … And there were police in the square. But the worst part was that nobody from a large number of eyewitnesses was outraged. Is it normal? What is next, celebration of Hitler’s birthday?”
Formerly, Igor’s father Jacob Nemirovsky had initiated installation of four monuments to the Jews tortured and executed by Hitlerites. The Nemirovsky can’t believe what is going on in Novomirgorod and other Ukrainian cities.
The incident with the game became known due to the post of Igor Nemirovsky on Facebook. After that local authorities acknowledged that the team was registered with the name “Hitlerites”. In the meantime, they tried to mitigate their involvement in the organization of the event. Nevertheless, an unfortunate coincidence is out of the question. That game, like any other sports event, was organized under supervision of the Ukrainian Ministry of Youth and Sports. The event was also sponsored by a large mining company “Velta”.
Outcomes of such a strange festive cohesion of the Ukrainian authorities, big business and local population resemble the celebrations that took place in the Third Reich in the 1930s.
*Neil Karpenko, Ukraine’history and politics researcher residing in Toronto, Canada. Contributing author to Haaretz, The Hill Times and Morning Star.