Mika Lehkosuo, who is a coach with the Finnish national team, has been condemned by campaigners for the comments during a TV broadcast of the USA vs Germany World Cup match on the 26 June.
Lehkosuo, a former midfielder is also coaching top-club HJK Veikkausliiga, was asked if he was happy with how the match was progressing for the German team. He told viewers “Yes, Arbeit Macht Frei, Germany does not shine, but it rarely does anyway.”
‘Arbeit macht frei!’ is a German phrase meaning “work makes (you) free”. The slogan is well known for having been placed over the entrances to a number of Nazi concentration camps during World War II, including most infamously Auschwitz.
It is closely linked to the phrase ‘Vernichtung dutch Arbeit’ (‘Extermination through labor’) and formed a principle that guided the operation of the Nazi concentration camp system, defined as the wilful or accepted killing of forced labourers or prisoners through excessively heavy labor, malnutrition and inadequate care.
Mika Lehkosuo has apologised although campaigners say they expect a reaction from sports institutions in the country.
Ike Chime, the chairman of Liikkukaa – Sports For All, a Finnish NGO using sport as a tool for social inclusion, said:
“Possibly Mr. Lehkosuo wanted to point out the work ethic of the German team, but he got it entirely wrong by using this phrase and laughing about it with the commentator. Did they both not know the meaning of what was said and its horrifying historical connotations?
“We at Liikkukaa – Sports for All strongly condemn this kind of careless statements whether they were done in error or not. Role models in positions of authority should weigh their words while making public statements. If they are unaware of the implications of using certain phrases they should seek to educate themselves before using them.
“Finnish football is getting a reputation as a sport that is insensitive to things that are still alive in our recent history and not understanding the diversity of our country.”
In April Juha Malinen, coach of RoPS club in the northern Finnish city of Rovaniemi, apologised after claiming to have the most Finnish team in the premier league, as his squad no longer included a large number of black players.