Some football fans are using today’s feverish political climate as a means to “cover their own racism and prejudice,” says UK-based anti-discrimination group Fare.
Incidents of anti-Semitic and racial abuse are a criminal offence and there is increasing evidence that both are on the rise at football grounds around Europe.
Kick It Out, a group that focuses on combatting racism in football reported that in 2017-2018, racist or hate crime incidents rose by 22%. This most recently came to the public’s attention during a December 2018 match in Brugge, Belgium where fans chanted anti-Semitic slogans – including references to the burning of Jews – which prompted the Israel-based International Legal Forum and the European Jewish Congress to take action.
Footage published by La Derniere Heure newspaper shows dozens of fans at another match in Bruges celebrating their local team’s victory over Brussels’ Anderlecht team by singing “My father was in the commandos, my mother was in the SS, together they burned Jews ’cause Jews burn the best.”
After the broadcast of the video, FC Brugge later issued a statement in which it condemned the incident and distanced itself from the fans’ behaviour.
Also in December, English Premier League giant Chelsea was forced to condemn the actions of several of their fans for anti-Semitic chants following a match in Hungary.
That incident was coupled with another embarrassment for the Premier League after a fan was investigated for hurling racial abuse at Manchester City’s Jamaican-born star, Raheem Sterling.
“There remains throughout football a rump of people, who in 2019, will see the political atmosphere as a cover for their own racism and prejudice,” said Fare executive director Piara Powar
Joel Nathan, chairman of the UK’s 90-year-old Jewish football club, Brady Maccabi, said he has seen a lot of abuse over the years, adding, “I think it’s mainly due to what people read in the newspapers. They think it’s okay and then all of a sudden they get carried away and start doing it.”
Anti-Semitic abuse must be “treated seriously in mainstream society” for it to be tackled accordingly in football, said Ben Holman of the educational anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card. “In some incidences, the message has got to the fans it’s not acceptable. The problem is some of the chants are more historic and in that way, fans don’t realise the problem with it,” Holman said before adding, “Our organisation has always believed sport and football are a microcosm of society.”
According to Britain’s Community Security Trust, anti-Semitism has been on the rise in the country and a report by the UK’s Criminal Justice Inspectorates, hate crimes rose after the 2016 Brexit Referendum and warned that the same could happen when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on March 29.
The rising number of incidents in recent years had forced professional football to address the issue of racism and anti-Semitism. The “Say No to Racism” of Britain’s Premier League provides one-to-one education courses that include club staff, stewards and supporters, In June 2018, the programme’s participants visited the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, in Poland to learn more about the Holocaust.