England’s Chelsea soccer club on Wednesday announced a new initiative to send anti-Semitic fans for a tour at the Auschwitz concentration camp as an alternative to banning them from Premier League matches.
The move was said to have been pushed by the team’s Jewish owner, Roman Abramovich, who recently immigrated to Israel and became its richest citizen.
Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck said the club wanted supporters caught committing anti-Semitic abuse to have a chance to avoid a stadium ban by attending education courses on the Holocaust at the death camp where the Nazis killed more than a million Jews during World War II.
“If you just ban people, you will never change their behavior,” Buck told The Sun. “This policy gives them the chance to realize what they have done, to make them want to behave better.
“In the past we would take them from the crowd and ban them, for up to three years. Now we say: ‘You did something wrong. You have the option. We can ban you or you can spend some time with our diversity officers, understanding what you did wrong.’”
The initiative was said to be supported by the World Jewish Congress, the Holocaust Education Trust and Rabbi Barry Marcus, as well as by the Chelsea Supporters’ Trust and Britain’s Football Supporters Federation.
“A year ago, Roman sat down with senior people at the club and had a conversation,” Buck added. “He had noticed an increase in anti-Semitism around the world and directed us to see what we could do implement a long-term project to combat it.”
Last year, Chelsea publicly criticized some of its fans for chanting anti-Semitic slogans during a match against Tottenham.
In April, the club sent a delegation to the annual March of the Living at Auschwitz. Two months later, 150 staff and supporters went on a day trip to the camp in Poland — initiatives that Buck has said were “really important and effective and we will consider more as well as other things that will affect people.”
“It is hard to act when a group of 50 or 100 people are chanting,” Buck said. “That’s virtually impossible to deal with or try to drag them out of the stadium. But if we have individuals that we can identify, we can act.”