English football (soccer) club aims to eradicate anti-Semitism

What started as a limited campaign in January took a life on its own. Chelsea F.C. players and officials are now engaged in all-out effort to eradicate anti-Semitism.

Chelsea owner and Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2018. Credit: Chelsea FC.
Chelsea owner and Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2018. Credit: Chelsea FC.

Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich never stops fighting anti-Semitism with everything he’s got, both on the pitch and on the street.

What started as a limited campaign in January took a life on its own. Chelsea FC players and officials are now engaged in all-out effort to eradicate anti-Semitism.

This includes outreach in schools in the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel, educational tours in Auschwitz, as well as meetings with fans who have used anti-Semitic and racist slurs during games.

Abramovich has provided the financial backing for this campaign right from the start, but his contribution goes beyond funding.

He has overseen the creation of a foundation that promotes the causes of his campaign to ensure this effort remains part and parcel of British discourse and achieves measurable results.

In recent days, the club has launched a new initiative aimed at completing the new Holocaust Galleries in the Imperial War Museum in London, not far from Parliament.

The museum contacted Abramovich right after he had launched his anti-Semitism campaign, asking him whether he would like to participate in the creation of a new section that would celebrate the lives of survivors and commemorate those who had perished. It will be different than other Holocaust memorials because it will retell Jewish history before the Nazis’ rise to power up until the liberation from the death camps in 1945.

Chelsea’s chairman Bruce Buck told Israel Hayom that Abramovich “decided to give a significant amount of money to ensure the galleries were built, and we also took it upon ourselves to cover the costs of the gala dinner aimed at raising funds for the initiative.”

Diplomats from the Israeli Embassy in London and many members of the local business community attended the gala dinner last week. During the event, Buck told them about how Abramovich made his decision to launch the anti-Semitism campaign.

“It all began with a board meeting. We talked about the terrorist attacks in France: the Hyper Cacher supermarket attack [in Paris] and the massacre at the Bataclan concert hall,” recalled Buck. “Then Roman asked, ‘Why don’t we embark on a long-term project to fight all this?’ and it happened. We brought senior Jewish leaders here and within two months, the museum contacted us and told us about their plans.

 ‘Sports have an amazing ability to change one’s behavior’

The decision to embark on this journey was not only a consequence of the attacks in France; it also had to do with the desire to shed the club’s problematic past.

In the 1980s, Chelsea’s reputation was damaged because fans kept using anti-Semitic and racist slurs during games. The situation has improved dramatically since, but anti-Semitic language is still heard in Stamford Bridge and in other stadiums.

“In the past, we used to crack down on such fans by suspending their membership for a long time, but we soon discovered that this step would not only fail to deter them, it would make them even more radical,” Buck told Israel Hayom.

“So we decided on a new approach. We took some 150 fans on a tour to Auschwitz, and then we took another 20 players from our younger squads and some of the staff to the death camp,” said Buck. “These tours were like a punch in the stomach for them. We also had the senior squad players meet Holocaust survivors, and the results were amazing: The fans became agents of change and began cracking down on other fans even before they could make racist chants. Sports have an amazing ability to change one’s behavior.”

Chelsea will play a friendly against Robert Kraft’s New England Revolution in about a month. The proceeds from the game will go to the commemoration of the 11 Jews who were murdered at the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha synagogue last October in Pittsburgh.

“Many teams, clubs and NGOs from the world have contacted us to glean from our experience on this matter, and we are delighted to answer their questions,” Buck said, praising Chelsea’s former Israeli manager Avram Grant, who has helped the club in the campaign. “He is always willing to help out, he also took part in the ‘March of the Living’ last year,” Buck said, referring to the annual gathering of youths at Auschwitz.

Towards the end of the interview, Buck commented on the team’s lackluster performance this season. “Of course, we are a bit disappointed due to the elimination,” he conceded. “Our goal is now to qualify for the Champions League, but for this we have to improve dramatically.”

Talking about his new recruit, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Buck said that “obviously, we are worried other clubs will try to poach him, but we have done a lot in recent years, and we would like him to stay, we hope we can convince him that Chelsea is his home.”

He sounded more skeptical when talking about Eden Hazard: ”He is a terrific player; we love him, and we are doing everything to keep him.”

It appears that Buck already knows that it is just a matter of time before Hazard makes his way to Real Madrid.

The writer was a guest of the Chelsea Football Club.

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