Lonsdale faces ban over 'neo-Nazi associations'

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The German mail-order giant Quelle has threatened to ban the British sports-wear label Lonsdale from its collection because of the brand's widespread popularity among racist and neo-Nazi groups.

The move would represent a major blow for the British boxing sportswear company, as its clothing collection would be withdrawn from the 40 million mail- order catalogues Quelle distributes to customers across Europe.

Michel Badke, Quelle's managing director, said yesterday that the measure was being considered because of growing concerns in Germany and across Europe that Lonsdale had become a favourite label among members of known neo-Nazi and racist organisations. "Quelle wants to distance itself clearly from all tendencies associated with extremism," Mr Badke said in a statement. "We want to counter any suggestion that we are supporting right-wing extremists through the sale of these goods."

Lawyers representing Lonsdale declined to comment yesterday.

Lonsdale is famous in Britain because of its boxing links. But in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, the label is associated with the extreme right. Skinhead thugs are frequently photographed in the press wearing Lonsdale bomber jackets and hooded sweatshirts.

The letters NSDA - contained in the brand's name - are taken by far-right supporters to be one letter short of the initials of Adolf Hitler's Nazi party - the National Socialist Worker's Party - or, the National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei (NSDAP).

Members of Germany's extreme-right party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), sport Lonsdale clothing and party officials wore the label during election campaigning in Saxony in 2004, when it gained seats in the state parliament for the first time in 20 years.

A spokesman for Quelle said yesterday that the company would decide whether to implement a ban on Lonsdale clothing within days. "We are still considering the issue because, despite its image, Lonsdale is known for actively campaigning against the far right," he said.

He added that any ban would not affect customers who had already ordered Lonsdale clothing. If imposed, the label would be withdrawn from the company's next print run of mail- order catalogues: "Lonsdale products are known for their quality and removing them from our collection would result in considerable losses," he said.

It is the first time that a German company has considered action to prohibit the distribution of Lonsdale products. But in Holland, nightclubs, bars, schools and a town have launched a campaign to ban wearing the label because of its right-wing associations.

Lonsdale has in the past refused to supply German retail outlets known to be popular with far-right groups and has tried to improve its image by sponsoring immigrant and gay rights campaigns. In Holland, Lonsdale responded to the campaign by launching a publicity campaign with the slogan: "Lonsdale loves all colours."

Quelle's decision to consider exempting Lonsdale from its collection appeared to be one of the most far-reaching bans the company has ever been threatened with. In Germany alone, Quelle distributes an annual 27 million mail-order catalogues to customers.

Quelle's announcement was prompted by a youth group from Germany's Social Democratic Party, which wrote to the company's management complaining that the Lonsdale brand and its widespread use by neo-Nazis was encouraging an acceptance of views that were prohibited in Germany - where the Nazi party is banned.

"We were completely surprised by Quelle's reaction to our letter, " said Jane Kuewen, a spokesman for the Social Democrat youth group. "Quelle is showing courage. Its actions are exemplary," she added.