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Adidas Stops Customization of Germany Jersey for Fear of Nazi Symbolism

The sports apparel giant Adidas abruptly stopped the sale of German soccer jerseys created with the player number “44” this week because the figure, when depicted in the official lettering of the uniform’s design, too closely resembled a well-known Nazi symbol.

The stylized square font used by Adidas for the jerseys, which will be worn by Germany’s team when it hosts this summer’s European soccer championships, makes the “44” resemble the “SS” emblem used by the Schutzstaffel, the feared Nazi paramilitary group that was instrumental in the murder of six million Jews. The emblem is one of dozens of Nazi symbols, phrases and gestures that are banned in Germany.

The country’s soccer federation, which is responsible for the design, said Monday any similarity to the logo created by the design’s numbering was unintentional.

“None of the parties involved saw any proximity to Nazi symbolism in the creation process of the jersey design,” the DFB, the German Football Association, said in a statement on X on Monday. Nonetheless, it said, “an alternative design for the No. 4” was being created in time for use in the team’s coming games.

Players on the German national team are assigned numbers — and jerseys — from 1 to 23, as required by soccer’s governing bodies for nearly all major tournaments. The German federation said that it had not reviewed designs featuring higher numbers.

But because Adidas had allowed automatic customization of its clothing, a jersey with the No. 44 could — until the company put an end to it on Monday — be ordered by fans using official websites. The ability to add certain names, like “Hitler” or “Führer,” to the customizable shirt had already been blocked by Adidas when the collection went online.

But as of Monday, the company had stopped allowing customization of its jerseys with any jersey number until the issue with the No. 4 was resolved. “As a company we actively oppose xenophobia, anti-Semitism, violence and hatred in any form,” Adidas said in a statement.

The brief outcry around the lettering of jerseys — and quick reaction by the soccer establishment — is part of a larger debate in Germany around Nazi symbols that has been heating up as a far-right party, the AfD, is surging in the polls. The party has been doing well in Eastern Germany, where three states will hold elections later this year.

Late this month, Björn Höcke, one of the party’s most extreme leaders, will stand trial in the Eastern city of Halle for using a well-known Nazi slogan during one of his campaign stops in 2021.

The original SS symbol is among dozens of Nazi references that are banned in Germany, and even punishable by prison if displayed to a large number of people. Together with the skull and bones, worn by some of the groups’ officers on their peaked hats, the SS logo, which looks like two lightning bolts, became the symbol of the terror of the Nazi state.

The number 88, which is a code that neo-Nazis use to denote the greeting “Heil Hitler” — H is the eighth letter of the alphabet — is already prohibited for use as a player number in official soccer games in Germany.

The discussion about the lettering on Germany’s uniforms is not the first clash over the national jersey in recent weeks. When the team’s official uniforms were unveiled two weeks ago, some politically conservative soccer fans were critical of the pink away jersey that Adidas presented.

But it was the announcement of a major deal with Nike, also last month, which will see the American company replace Adidas as the supplier of Germany’s jerseys starting in 2027 that led to an outcry that included the country’s top politicians.

It will be the first time in Germany’s postwar history that Adidas, a German company, will not make the team’s uniforms.

“I can hardly imagine the German jersey without the three stripes,” Robert Habeck, Germany’s vice chancellor and economic minister, told the DPA, a German news agency. He said he would have wished to see more “patriotism” from those who made the deal.

The quick reaction of Adidas and the German federation, to the design problem over Easter came after social media users started discussing the resemblance between the No. 44 and the Nazi emblem, and after several newspapers, including the powerful tabloid Bild, reported on the issue.

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