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Clubs urged to sign up and use football's power to combat antisemitism

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A group of international envoys and coordinators on antisemitism have written to leading European football clubs to urge them to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

It is hoped that harnessing football’s global reach will help clubs train stewards and employees in identifying and combatting antisemitic acts. The 14 signatories of the letter told clubs that the Covid-19 pandemic had led to a rise in antisemitism around the world and said that adopting the IHRA definition would “send out a very strong message about your club’s ethos”.

Chelsea became the first sports team to sign up to the IHRA definition in January and Lord John Mann, the UK government’s adviser on antisemitism, told the Guardian the club had demonstrated football’s power to inspire change.

“What we found with Chelsea is the reach of football is far bigger than other institutions in civil society,” Mann said. “If a fan sat at home with his club all over his Facebook and Twitter persona is spewing out antisemitism, then if the club challenges it that’s dramatically more powerful.

“If the club gives a message of ‘These aren’t our values’ and invites the individual in for some education, most people would accept the invitation. We’re getting to people who, perhaps because of their ignorance, are creating distress. It pulls away the majority of people who, when antisemitism is explained to them, don’t want to repeat what they’ve said.”

West Ham, Bournemouth, Borussia Dortmund and Tennis Borussia Berlin have followed Chelsea in signing up to the definition. Mann expects more Premier League clubs to sign up before the end of the year. However, he painted a worrying picture about the situation in Europe.

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“In Poland, in Lodz, the main term of abuse used is ‘Jew’ at matches,” he said. “In Vienna there’s been something similar for many years. The outbreaks of antisemitism in German football have been more disguised because of the German law but remain serious.

“In the Lodz derby supporters abuse the other set with ‘Juden’ as the main abuse. You get random antisemitic banners at matches with tiny attendances. Why football? Where else do you demonstrate this stuff? In Hungary it’s MTK Budapest, who were very prevalent in their Jewish identity before the war.

“Good procedures can isolate and remove the problem. If stewards and clubs know what they’re looking for there won’t be any antisemitic banners. They’ll be removed. Some of it is straightforward. Some of it is more challenging.”



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