British soccer club Tottenham Hotspur said Wednesday that only “a total clampdown” on anti-Semitism would make it reassess club standards on its fans affectionately chanting an offensive term for Jews.
The statement follows Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck telling The Associated Press “the use of the Y-word by Spurs supporters, or by anybody, is wrong.”
Fans of Tottenham, a north London soccer club which has traditionally drawn a large fan base from the Jewish communities, call themselves the “Yid Army.” But Chelsea fans have used the word against Tottenham in chants and the team is now facing UEFA sanctions as a result.
Chelsea will host Tottenham in the Premier League on Wednesday.
Tottenham said its fans “have never used the term with any offense,” adding that “a reassessment of its use can only occur effectively within the context of a total clampdown on unacceptable anti-Semitism.”
It was not clear what the club meant by “a total clampdown” and whether it was in favor of initiating one.
UEFA disciplinary officials on Thursday will decide how to punish Chelsea for anti-Semitic chants made by fans during a Europa League game in Hungary in December against Vidi. Chelsea could be forced to play a game behind closed doors without any fans.
The Chelsea fans were chanting “Yid,” considered a derogatory term for Jewish people in Britain.
But when Chelsea fans have hurled the word — particularly during games against Tottenham — there has also been hissing, mimicking Nazi gas chambers. With Chelsea hosting its London rival on Wednesday night in the Premier League, fresh warnings have been issued for fans to cut out the anti-Semitism that has tarnished past derbies.
“There is a particular problem with the Y-word,” Buck said Tuesday. “We think the use of the Y-word by Spurs supporters, or by anybody, is wrong. It’s very confusing … because UEFA thinks it’s wrong and are charging our fans. … We’re trying to say there shouldn’t be a ban.”
In 2014, London’s Metropolitan Police backed away from a threat to arrest Tottenham fans for using the word. But Chelsea fans could be detained.
“There’s a particular problem for the police in that if you’ve got the 3,000 Spurs fans chanting it how do you drag 3,000 people out of the stadium? I respect that,” Buck said. “They can say they’re just not going to arrest and prosecute because it’s too difficult or whatever, but they shouldn’t be saying it’s OK to say that.”
Chelsea is a visible part of a capital where anti-Semitism is resurgent. The Community Security Trust cataloged a 16 percent rise in incidents last year to 1,652. Just last week, eight members of the House of Commons quit the main opposition Labour Party, citing among their reasons leader Jeremy Corbyn for failing to stamp out anti-Semitism in the party.
Chelsea uses its platform online and in stadiums on match days to campaign against racism and urge fans to report abuse. Buck hopes up to $4 million will be raised for the campaign, and that awareness will be boosted by Chelsea playing a game later this year in suburban Boston against Robert Kraft’s New England Revolution.
“We at Chelsea have had several incidents over the last year and we’re trying to deal with those in the appropriate way,” Buck said. “Historically football clubs if fans did something wrong or we just threw them out or banned them. … Education is the only way that we’re going to make a real dent.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.