Jason Bagley/ Flickr
Jason Bagley/ Flickr

Chelsea’s campaign against antisemitism is no publicity stunt

While the nation may still be holding onto hope of football returning home in 2022, Chelsea Football Club’s owner, Roman Abramovich, has made it clear – antisemitism is not, ever. Following a new campaign, “Say no to antisemitism”, Chelsea has emphasised their core values- there is no place for antisemitism in sport.

A topic that seems never-ending in our current news cycle is now being faced in the sporting world. Beginning with a foundation titled “Say no to antisemitism”, the club is aiming to tackle the issue in all sectors of the sport, from educating their players to creating better regulations in the stadium.

A Chelsea season-ticket holder was banned for three years after making thirteen Nazi salutes to fans on the opposing team

Outside of allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party, it can be difficult to fully comprehend the meaning of antisemitism. In simple, it is hostility to, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews.

Chelsea has not been short of antisemitism scandals. Antisemitic chants are often the topic of football controversies. Both fans and players have been reported for chanting “I’ve got a foreskin, haven’t you: fucking Jew.” It was reported in 2016 that fans had been using this chant on a London tube line following a Chelsea victory against rival side Tottenham Hotspur. The following year, the same antisemitic allegations were made again in a match, once again against Tottenham. Both Arsenal and West Ham fans have also been reported for using similar chants.

The same year, a Chelsea season-ticket holder was banned for three years after making thirteen Nazi salutes to fans on the opposing team.

The foundation, “Say no to antisemitism”, launched in January 2018, aims to “ensure everyone feels safe, valued and included”

Antisemitism is not the only racial allegation facing Chelsea. In 2015, Chelsea fans were involved in an incident in Paris, where fans were filmed chanting “We’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it.” Fans also pushed a black passenger off the subway carriage.

While the club may have historically had problems with antisemitism, under the management of Roman Abramovich this behaviour is no longer being accepted. The foundation, “Say no to antisemitism”, launched in January 2018, aims to “ensure everyone feels safe, valued and included”, including those from the “Jewish community” according to the website.

Education is serving as the main tool in tackling racism in sport. By partnering with a variety of organisations, such as the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Jewish Museum, the Community Security Trust, Kick It Out, the World Jewish Congress, the Anne Frank House and Maccabi GB, the foundation is aiming to tackle racism head-on.

In order to tackle antisemitism, action needs to be taken in all aspects of the sport, including by the fans

The foundation claims that: “Through working with a range of partners, Chelsea will be taking a lead on raising awareness of antisemitism and its impact on the Jewish community and society as a whole, demonstrating that the club is welcoming to all.”

While many may view this initiative as a plea to improve the club’s reputation, the “Say no to antisemitism” is much more than a publicity stunt. What makes the foundation interesting is the work it aims to do outside of educating the players alone. In order to tackle antisemitism, action needs to be taken in all aspects of the sport, including by the fans. By introducing a re-education program for banned fans, the club aims to educate fans on “the impact of their actions” and offers the possibility of a reduced banned sentence.

Planned visits to concentration camps for players, staff and fans allows fans to see the devastation that antisemitism can cause. In addition, the foundation will be hosting talks with Holocaust survivors, to share their family story. The specific initiative of sending fans to Auschwitz concentration camps has resulted in a great deal of media attention. But in reality, by making the devastating impacts of racism a reality, fans and plans alike are more likely to grasp the impact of their words and actions.

While education may be the way to tackle antisemitism, a greater response is needed from the wider sporting community

The perception from the Jewish community in response to the initiative has been overwhelmingly positive. Tackling antisemitism remains a key battle for the Jewish community, so to see sport allies support the fight against antisemitism has been well received. Robert Singer, CEO of the World Jewish Congress, commented that “the World Jewish Congress deeply appreciates the comprehensive efforts being made by Chelsea Football Club to raise awareness of the dangerous manifestations of antisemitism and racism in sport.”

Antisemitism is far from the only form of racism present in sport; that said, it is an issue that needs to be tackled with great urgency. While education may be the way to tackle antisemitism, a greater response is needed from the wider sporting community to prove that the plan is effective. Chelsea may have a history of antisemitic problems, but they are not the only sports team in need of serious reform.

Racial slurs will no longer be accepted, and fans must take on an active role of calling out these injustices

Until the plan stands the test of time, it cannot be deemed a success. If the team can continue to commit to calling out racial injustice, work beyond their role as simply a ‘sports’ team and function without having a social media push behind them, the foundation can move beyond the criticisms of a ‘publicity stunt’. For fans, this new goal will be changing their framework on how to appreciate sport. Racial slurs will no longer be accepted, and fans must take on an active role of calling out these injustices.

Thankfully, the change is not isolated. With politics also placing a greater emphasis on outing antisemitism, Chelsea is one of many in their desire for change. Will we see a fully changed sporting environment? Probably not straight away, but that doesn’t mean small change and good intentions should be discounted.

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