Today’s Solutions: May 19, 2024

Racist and antisemitic attitudes pervade European football fan culture—antisemitic chants are commonly heard but often met with little to no objection on Europe’s football grounds.

However, football clubs Borussia Dortmund and Feyenoord have decided that it’s time to combat these damaging and derogatory sentiments among their supporters. They’re adopting an educational approach that seeks to counter antisemitic tendencies and make the supporters part of the solution, rather than just blaming them for the problem.

Steven Burger, Feyenoord’s supporter liaison officer, was once a season ticket holder himself. Now, he’s been given the responsibility of running the club’s educational program that strives to eliminate antisemitic attitudes from Feyenoord’s fan base.

Feyenoord: “They see a face”

As a part of the program, Feyenoord fans who are caught carrying out an offense are made to have conversations with Rotterdam-based Holocaust survivors, so that the errant supporters can reflect on their actions rather than just receiving punishment. This way, people can understand the gravity and impact that their chants have on Jews, including fellow club supporters.

“All of a sudden, it’s no longer ‘the Jews.’ They see a face,” says Berger.

Education is key

Feyenoord partnered with the educational department of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam to create their program. Willem Wagener, who’s been involved with the institution for two decades, explains that the decision to investigate antisemitism in Dutch football is due to the realization that anti-Jewish sentiments stretch beyond the stadium.

“I was researching antisemitism in Dutch schools, and surprisingly, more than 50 percent of the teachers who reported incidents said they were football-related,” Wagener reveals.

Feyenoord and the Anne Frank House were among those who started the “Changing the Chants” conference, the closing event to a two-year project in the fight against antisemitism in European football which took place just over a week ago in Oswiecim, Poland.

The conference featured panel discussions about combating antisemitic tendencies at Europe’s football stadiums as well as a visit to the nearby Auschwitz concentration camp. The participants came from diverse specializations, including social work, education, and journalism.

Borussia Dortmund: A key stakeholder

Borussia Dortmund (BVB) is another football club that had a central role in the Changing the Chants initiative. The Bundesliga team also struggled with antisemitic tendencies among their supporters, but Daniel Lörcher, BVB’s head of corporate responsibility, is at the head of Dortmund’s educational program that seeks to expel these attitudes from their stands.

Their program isn’t only available to supporters who are caught actively participating in offensive behavior but to all fans who show interest. Fans, club employees, and employees of BVB’s sponsors visit former concentration camps as part of the program. During these visits, the focus is on the city of Dortmund and the Jews who used to live there before the Holocaust.

Independent fan culture is key for change

Both Dortmund and Feyenoord’s projects allow independent fan culture and their supporters to be part of the solution. Although they have different targets, both clubs hope to apply each other’s ideas in their own cities in the future.

“The only way to trigger behavioral change is to speak to football fans in their own language,” Wagener explains. “If fans understand they hurt some of their own fans, breaking the loyalty to fellow supporters, that’s a mechanism which can motivate people to change.”

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