Right-wing extremists have begun infiltrating sports clubs to influence young people across the country, a leading researcher said Tuesday, calling the situation a pressing problem.

The Local, Germany/January 18, 2011

Sociologist at the University of Hannover, Gunter Pilz, has found that neo-Nazis are taking advantage of a general unwillingness to volunteer at sports clubs to install members as functionaries and coaches. Some are also founding their own sports clubs, he said.

There they organise free time activities for young people in an attempt to gain a foothold for their ideas in the centre of German society, he added.

"It's not just a problem in the east," Pilz said, explaining that he has observed the phenomenon across the country.

The problem has gained the most attention for being at football clubs, but other sports are also included, though there it is often "suppressed" or "played down," he said.

The sociologist's comments came ahead of a meeting on Tuesday in Berlin for politicians and sporting authorities, who aim to create an initiative against right-wing extremism in sports.

Pilz urged participants to make the event more than just a "flash in the pan," but to increase vigilance against the politicization of sports.

A "healthy mistrust" would also benefit Germans, he said.

Sports are often portrayed as a place where only "good people" congregate, which makes it easier for neo-Nazis to operate without suspicion, he said.

In October 2010 a children's football coach made headlines when he was caught defying a ban from his club in the German state of Saxony-Anhalt for his membership in the neo-Nazi NPD party.

Right-wing extremist Lutz Battke was photographed at football practice in Laucha by broadcaster MDR, despite being suspended from his post earlier in the year.

The state sporting association (LSB) said then that it would pursue measures to have Battke permanently removed from the club.

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