Football campaigners reveal anti-racist goals

By Jessica Elgot, June 16, 2011
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Itzik Shanan and Ivor Baddiel with the New Israel Fund’s Adam Ognall

Itzik Shanan and Ivor Baddiel with the New Israel Fund’s Adam Ognall

It was a game of two halves as tackling racism in British and Israeli football was the theme of a JCC and New Israel Fund forum in central London on Tuesday.

Guests first enjoyed a screening of After the Cup, a documentary about Arab football team Bnei Sakhnin in the year following its Israeli Cup triumph and also focusing on star midfielder and Israeli international Abbas Suan.

Then Ivor Baddiel and Kick It Out Israel founder Itzik Shanan discussed the progress in anti-racist campaigns in their respective countries.

Mr Baddiel, a Chelsea fan, spoke about The Y-Word - a film made with his comedian brother David to dissaude fans from using the word "yid" in football chants.

English stars Frank Lampard and Ledley King appear in The Y-Word but Mr Baddiel was disappointed by the response of Israelis playing here.

"We knew we were never going to get Roman Abramovich but we approached Yossi Benayoun and he rejected it. I don't know if he ever saw the request personally but if he did, then it's a real shame."

Mr Shanan, whose project is supported by the NIF, was not surprised. "Not many Israeli players seem to be willing to be role models," he observed. "Bnei Sakhnin's Abbas Suan is a beacon of hope. He realised he had to be a symbol. It's a way for him and the team to be proud of being part of Israeli society."

Mr Shanan said the Israeli campaign had taken huge inspiration from the English FA's anti-racism drive.

"The UK is a real symbol of success. You can feel it in every British stadium. We had a lot of people saying it was not possible to eradicate it [racism] in Israel but we have been very successful."

Racist chants against Arab players were now a rarity, being heard mainly at Betar Jerusalem games.

"We have to target it because the children hearing these songs in the stadiums are future soldiers," Mr Shanan pointed out. "If they hear that language like that is legitimate, then they might think it's legitimate to use it at a checkpoint when they are in the army.

"I have even heard my children singing the songs - they were eight and six. I would never take them to a Betar Jerusalem game but they heard it at school. I gave them the talking to of a lifetime but they didn't realise what they were saying. That is dangerous."

Mr Baddiel accepted that football racism would never be totally eradicated. "But look at how far we have come since the 1970s and 1980s. I used to stand in the Shed at Chelsea where people would salute and shout 'Sieg Heil'. I kept going back because I didn't want the fascists to drive me away."

    Last updated: 3:26pm, June 16 2011