Borussia Dortmund take lead in fight against hate

The German club were the first to adopt the IHRA definition on antisemitism in January 2020


ONE OF Germany’s most high profile football clubs has proudly taken the lead in tackling antisemitic and racist support amongst its own fans — as well as wider society.

Borussia Dortmund are amongst the top sides in Germany’s Bundesliga, regularly competing in the UEFA Champions League, where they have played against Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United and Arsenal in the last eight years.

But the west German city, once famous for its steel and coal industries and its main football club have, since the 1980s, experienced a growth in neo-Nazi activity, violence and crime that threatened to spiral out of control.

As a result ofBorussia Dortmund’s efforts to address the problem, however, incidents involving the far-right amongst supporters are now infrequent.

In a clear message that has subsequently been followed by other German football clubs, Dortmund became the first in the country to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism in January 2020 .

Furthermore, in an educational programme that has been taken up by thousands of supporters, the club have organised educational trips to concentration camps in order to ensure that fans are aware of the not too distant past so they are better able to tackle the resurgence of the modern far-right.

“There is a huge problem with the far-right in Dortmund and this has connections to the supporter base,” Daniel Lörcher, the football club’s Head of Corporate Responsibility, told the JC.

“I wouldn’t say it was a problem of the city and then it became the problem of the club, or the other way around. It was a problem for both — we had different threats and problems dating back from the 1980s which went on up until around 2013 when we tried to address the issues.”

Mr Lörcher recalled how after far-right supporters connected to Borussia Dortmund attacked other fans at an away game in Ukraine, it was decided that action was necessary to proactively tackle the growing problem.

Away from football, since 2000 the city had also seen five people die as a result of attacks by extreme nationalists, leading to a police task force being set up in 2015 to clamp down on the local neo- Nazi movement.

“Against this background it was necessary to step forwards,” said Mr Lörcher.

“We realised the extreme right at Dortmund had a very powerful network. They had places to meet as well as the violence and the physical situation to threaten people.

“Our aim was to empower those who wanted to change things, the positive ones. We really tried to educate everyone to become active — to empower the supporters to become active and try to change the climate in our stadium so everyone can feel comfortable.”

The club recognised that a tough approach was necessary to ensure that those who were identified as ring-leaders of the far-right were sanctioned.

Stadium bans were routinely issued to those who were found guilty of far-right violence in the courts. A leader of a far-right political party who used an image of Dortmund’s giant South Stand in publicity material was also successfully taken to court.

Meanwhile the United By Borussia initiative, which attempted to link fans from different age groups and backgrounds who wouldn’t otherwise meet and become a positive force was also successfully launched in 2014.

For Dortmund, an away game in 2008 in Munich had actually witnessed the first educational visit to made to the Dachau concentration camp for the club’s supporter liaison group. “It was connected to decades of problems we had faced from extreme right hooligans,” says Mr Lörcher, explaining the reasons behind a whole series of educational trips that have followed.

“In our case, and also other clubs, I think it was a process starting with supporter base, and then to employees and also players.

“What is really important to me is that nowadays it is not necessary for there to be a problem for the club to be active in the way we are.

It really has become part of the values of the club. We want to tackle antisemitism and racism in football but also in a wider way across society.”

Nothing illustrated this more than the decision to adopt IHRA in January 2020. It came about after discussions between Mr Lörcher and Lord Mann, the UK government’s independent adviser on antisemitism.

“Our idea was that if we adopted the IHRA definition we could also start running our programme to a wider range and have answers to antisemitism nowadays.”

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted on what events the club has been able to stage, although more than 3000 supporters had taken part in educational trips prior to the pandemic.

But online the activity has continued apace. More than 100,000 people view the news that the IHRA definition had been adopted on the club’s social media channels.

Dortmund have also hosted online workshops, lectures and discussions with a project around antisemitism itself.

“We try to explain and counter the different forms of antisemitism — the IHRA definition has proved a great help in this,” said Mr Lörcher, who reveals that all of the club’s employees are given talks on the importance of understanding the definition.

“It is was very important that when we adopted IHRA we used it to empower people to use it in their daily lives.”

At least nine other German sides have followed their lead and adopted IHRA.

And in the business world six firms, including Deutsche Bank and Volkswagen, have sought guidance from Dortmund as they too adopted the definition.

“It makes me really proud,” says Mr Lörcher. “Now there is this network, and more will follow, I think.”


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