Along with tens of millions of other football fans, we watched the draw for the upcoming Champions League in late August. A number of important football prizes were awarded at this meeting as well. 'Our' Virgil van Dijk was proclaimed player of the year, 'our' Frenkie de Jong best midfielder. But we were even more excited when German top club Borussia Dortmund received the #EqualGame Award from the hands of UEFA chairman Čeferin, who said, 'The club has set an important example for other clubs throughout Europe to follow.' How right he was! Over the next two years, the Anne Frank Stichting will be working with Borussia Dortmund on this exact issue.
Fight against racism, antisemitism, and intolerance
The #EqualGame Award is the annual award presented by the European Football Association UEFA to football bodies that excel in social involvement. Borussia Dortmund was awarded the prize for their ongoing educational efforts against racism, antisemitism, and intolerance in football. They were praised for their educational approach, involving their own fans to reduce these problems.
Leading by example
Back in 2015, we organised a well-attended international football conference in the Johan Cruijff Arena on the issue of antisemitism in contemporary professional football. Representatives of football clubs, organisations, supporters, Jewish organisations, and others discussed the possibilities of taking action against antisemitic chanting. Representatives of Borussia Dortmund talked about their educational initiatives involving the club’s fanbase. Their presentation inspired us and during the conference, we came up with an angle for a Dutch approach – the Football Chanting Project was born. Rotterdam football club Feyenoord joined forces with our Amsterdam Foundation to develop an approach to combat antisemitic football chanting, following in the footsteps of Borussia Dortmund. Before long, FC Utrecht joined the initiative.
Regular visitors to the stadiums ourselves, we are unfortunately quite familiar with the phenomenon. A number of Dutch football clubs are frequently alarmed by antisemitic chanting, usually targeting supporters and players of Ajax Amsterdam. Ajax has for decades been perceived as a 'Jewish' club. Ajax fans call themselves Super Jews and carry the nickname as a badge of honour. In response, rival football supporters sing songs like 'Hamas, Hamas, all Jews should be gassed'. Although these chants are directed against Ajax supporters, they are obviously very hurtful and painful for the Jewish community in the Netherlands. Moreover, such antisemitic slurs are quite simply punishable by law.
Education as a means
Together with Feyenoord and FC Utrecht, we came up with the idea of coupling the existing approach of fines and stadium bans with an educational approach. After all, the ultimate goal is making supporters aware that their behaviour is unacceptable and making them stop. Feyenoord and FC Utrecht are doing just that, by showing participating supporters that they are damaging their own clubs and fellow supporters with their chants.
To this end, we have designed a local history tour at both Feyenoord and FC Utrecht for hardcore football supporters. The tour stresses the supporters’ loyalty to their clubs and focuses on the history of the clubs and the cities. Supporters delve into the local history and learn about the damage their city and their club suffered in the Second World War and because of the Holocaust. They visit monuments with the names of the victims and go to local hiding places. They meet Jewish fellow supporters with gripping personal stories, people with whom they share the love for their club and with whom they can identify as football fans. During these events, supporters become visibly aware of the effect of their chants. Time and again, we see that supporters are startled when they realise that Jewish fellow supporters no longer come to the stadium on account of the chanting: 'All of a sudden, you can put faces to the Jews that you said “should be gassed”. And then it is not so funny anymore.'
During one of the workshops at FC Utrecht, one of the participants was the supporter who had written a crass antisemitic song that had been chanted from the stands. Confronted with the pain that his song had caused his Jewish fellow supporters, he realised what he had done. At the end of the programme, he walked up to his Jewish fellow supporter, who was more than forty years his senior, and asked: 'Sir, what can I do, what song can I write to get you back into the stadium?'
We want to spread our approach and make it even more successful. In May, we received the good news that, thanks to a grant from the European Commission, we also get to work at the European level, with Feyenoord and Borussia Dortmund. In this cooperative, we mean to pool our strengths and experiences, learn from each other, and pass our knowledge and insights on to other football clubs and agencies.
The words of UEFA President Čeferin will be heard and we will share our experiences by setting up projects against antisemitic chanting throughout Europe. So, stay tuned for more news on this project!