Five things football clubs can do to stop antisemitism at matches

The ADL's Andrew Srulevitch says what has worked in the US could work here

January 29, 2019 09:23

For those obsessed with the ins and outs of European football, it has been a tough few months. Not necessarily because of anything the players have done on the pitch, but because of a series of ugly headlines and stories about racism from fans.

And not just one or two isolated instances, but repeated reports of fans chanting antisemitic slurs from the stands, of peanuts thrown at black players, of fans and players giving Nazi salutes.

In December alone, Football Against Racism in Europe reported 23 racist, antisemitic or homophobic incidents at games. Bananas and bags of peanuts were thrown at black players.

Muslim players were called “parasites.” Fans of the Italian team, SS Lazio, gave Nazi salutes and shouted racist and antisemitic chants. 

In the United States, we have had our own share of controversies involving sports teams, fans, bigotry and free speech, including the recent “take a knee” controversy.

But nothing compares to what we’ve seen in the past few years in European sport. From our vantage point as an anti-hate organisation doing work to prevent this from happening in the United States, it’s really a lamentable state of affairs.

But it doesn’t have to continue on in this way. 

Here are five things European teams can do to address this problem now. We offer these not to be overly prescriptive, but because we have had experience and success with similar initiatives here in the U.S.

  1. Raise awareness: There’s no solution to racism and prejudice unless people are aware of the problem.  Self-awareness among fans and players can go a long way to stopping bad behavior in the stands and on the field. We’ve seen this in the United States. Years ago, we launched a public awareness campaign with a tagline, “If you really believe in America, prejudice is foul play!” that included posters featuring star NBA athletes and big-name celebrities such as Michael Jordan. This helped foster a sense of awareness, especially among young people who are perhaps most susceptible.
  2. Create hate-free zones: We’ve also done this in partnership with teams in the U.S. Our No Place for Hate program partnered with the Atlanta Braves to created public service announcements featuring players talking frankly about prejudice in English and Spanish; we hosted No Place for Hate events at Braves games with free tickets for student leaders (more than 500 youth attended games each season); we held a rally and on-field presentation at those games; and players and coaches from the Braves appeared at schools and signed a pledge against hate. This helped to create more awareness but also a sense that the stadium was a hate-free zone.
  3. Don’t under estimate the power of anti-bias education: Players and fans who invoke the Nazis and the Holocaust either haven’t been sensitized to the lessons of the Holocaust or are ignorant of the history. They also don’t know how hateful words can hurt. Teams can change that by helping to promote education about antisemitism and the Holocaust in schools and communities, and an awareness of stereotypes. Players should learn about the history of Judaism in Europe, antisemitism and the Holocaust. It doesn’t take all that much: a short lecture, some reading or a video. One model for this is what Chelsea has done recently. The club’s owner announced an initiative aimed at discouraging antisemitism among its players and fans and has partnered with the Anne Frank House and London’s Jewish Museum and other organizations to provide workshops on Jewish culture.
  4. Use celebrity power for good: Celebrity players are the ultimate brand ambassadors for teams. Imagine the power of having one of your most high-profile players saying, on television, at a news conference, or in an ad campaign, that he or she believes that hate is unacceptable. Never underestimate the power that one celebrity player can have to raise his or her voice and radically “change the game.”
  5. Bring Together Leaders for Change: It truly takes a community-wide effort to embrace change, which is why it is important for team owners, government and civic leaders, elected officials and players to stand united against hate. In the US, ADL created a Sports Leadership Council that brings together professional athletes and sports leaders to promote positive social change and combat hate, bullying and discrimination in our society. The initiative now includes commissioners of the NFL, NBA, MLB, MLS and others such as tennis great Venus Williams.

In Europe, antisemitism should be just as taboo as other forms of racism. Just as players should play hard and fair, fans should root hard and respectfully. By doing so, they will remove the stain of bigotry from the “beautiful game”.

Andrew Srulevitch is ADL’s Director of European Affairs

January 29, 2019 09:23

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