Listen to the roaring whisper of a sports crowd. It’s compelling and mesmerizing. When it stops, when the crowd waits silently for the next spectacular move, there is no mistaking the powerful moment. The teams assembled hold every man, woman, and child entirely in their thrall. It’s a potent force that extends far beyond the confines of any single game or country and is free of the barriers of color, ethnicity, or age.
In the UK, Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich and his leadership team know the power that they hold in their hands.
Their Say No to Antisemitism initiative is a fist raised at hate-mongering, which, though targeted at Jews, has subtle, insidious consequences for all. By funding a variety of educational opportunities and experiences on antisemitism and race-based hatred, they plan to promote cross-cultural communication and understanding.
Say No to Antisemitism arrives just in time in the UK, where antisemitism is deep-seated, inbred, and, frighteningly, on the rise. And it’s a program that should be adopted worldwide because the UK is not unique.
Antisemitism, the oldest racism, is systemic. It is embedded in the DNA of nationalist and populist groups everywhere. It has been a fixture of countless societies since the Assyrians cast Jews out of the land of Israel in the eighth century BCE. This hatred of Jews is so deeply implanted in the world’s consciousness that antisemitism is under-reported and largely un-protested.
Despite the fact that it is open, virulent, and relentless, antisemitism remains the one form of discrimination that almost anyone — anywhere — can perpetrate with impunity.
Many of us, especially those whose parents and grandparents escaped the Holocaust, live with a persistent strain of PTSD when it comes to antisemitism. Some of us wonder if we too must flee. But where would we go?
No place feels safer than any other. Whom can we trust? No one group is responsible for the current proliferation of antisemitism. No one ideology espouses it. Hateful rhetoric on the political left is as without censure as it is on the right. Society is tacitly complicit by failing to condemn the Yellow Vests, bombs, swastikas, and threats that turn cafes, synagogues, colleges, cemeteries, streets, and sports arenas into danger zones.
We need a strong voice to rise above the hate-mongering din. The Chelsea Football Club and Abramovich understand that.
Under their program — in classroom settings, auditorium presentations, and group travel experiences — fans and players will listen intently and actually hear one another. Furthermore, the program is on the move.
NYU has incorporated the program into the Tisch Institute for Global Sports curriculum. Later this Spring, fans will learn more about the program when the Chelsea Football Club plays the New England Revolution in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Personal pledges of $1 million each from Abramovich and Revolution owner Robert Kraft, plus all proceeds from the game, will be dedicated to the campaign.
Those who fight antisemitism are aware that they’ve embarked on a journey that may be slow and ponderous. But they are committed. Slow or fast, Abramovich’s is a rare and special exertion of power. It’s a model for sports organizations throughout the UK, the US, and everywhere.
Carla Stockton’s writing has been featured in publications such as Guernica, Moment, The Toast, The Guardian, and others. You may visit her blogsite at carlastockton.me.