A grueling season in the English Football League is over. But not for Chelsea Football Club. They have one more fixture before they can take a well earned break.
Wednesday’s match against New England Revolution in Massachusetts may not be an EFL top of the table fixture, but in a way, it is the most significant of Chelsea’s matches of the entire season.
As Eden Hazard and company run onto the pitch at the Gillette stadium they will be doing something far more than challenging an opposing football team for 90 minutes. They will be making an emphatic statement that antisemitism and hate is not welcome. Not in sport and frankly, not anywhere.
The game billed as "Final Whistle On Hate" is a fundraiser and a raise-awareness event. The aim is to combat the scourge of antisemitism - a plague that has dangerously increased at an alarming rate, especially of recent. A violent attack just under three weeks ago at the Poway Chabad synagogue left a worshiper Lori Kaye, dead, others injured and many traumatized, damaged and scarred. Last week it was Williamsburg. Yesterday it was Sweden. It’s not abating.
The funds raised from the match will be dispersed to organisation that are combating antisemitism in some form or another and towards victims of it. The Pittsburgh Jewish community, still reeling from the October 27 2018 dastardly massacre at the synagogue where 11 worshipers were murdered, are one of the beneficiaries.
Let’s put the ‘Final Whistle On Hate’ match into perspective.
Chelsea and New England are not just playing a soccer match, they are trying to tell the world something. “Wake up!" There is a dark force at play in our world and everyone, yes everyone, needs to blow this whistle. The trains that led carts of Jews to the death camps in Auschwitz whistled and their sound sent tremors of terror into the hearts of those being led to their slaughter. This whistle is to send a signal to those that seek to continue to perpetuate the ideology of evil that is antisemitism, that they are being red carded - banished from the playing fields of life.
The whistle is there to alert us not to be naive in thinking that it will all just go away. It’s there to remind us not to ‘pass the buck’, expecting that someone of a diplomatic stature will somehow address the problem - because even football players are leading the charge here, and if they are, so should we. It’s telling us to be assertive, determined and proactive. To call out and actively confront antisemitism wherever it rears its ugly head.
This match is important, also, because leading figures in sport who are admired and adulated-over are standing up and being counted. They are taking the lead, bearing the torch, saying this is something we need to do something about. What has a football player got to do with sending a message about antisemitism? That’s just it. A football player, a businessman, a teacher, a student, a singer, a writer, an actor… we are all Eden Hazard’s running onto the turf of life and saying “NO! This has got to stop! Get off the field!”
There's a challenge that’s been put in play here. When businessmen and sports owners Roman Abramovich (Chelsea) and Robert Kraft (New England) set this game into motion, they silently declared that owners of sports teams everywhere have a role to play and must blow the whistle. When Willian (Chelsea striker) and Matt Turner (New England Goalkeeper) take the field for this game, they are stating to sports persons and athletes everywhere that they too must play their part and take to the field against hate and antisemitism.
When fans turn out to support a game whose focus is the call of Final Whistle On Hate, they are charging fans everywhere to do the same and raise their voices as fans in grand stands across the world. Gillette Stadium on Wednesday night becomes the Rose Bowl, Roland Garros, The Gabba, Ellis Park - a challenge to stadiums and fans across the world to make their home ground, free of antisemitism and hate.
This is more than a game. It’s a model to demonstrate what could and should be happening in forums outside the main political podiums and backrooms where the scourge of antisemitism is evaluated and strategies created to confront it. Everywhere is a platform. Everyone of us are players.
And don’t kid yourself. it is everywhere. As a soccer player in the amateur leagues in South Africa, in the heat of a game, from out of nowhere, a frustrated player on the opposing team calls me a ‘kike’. Not a single incident this, it has happened multiple times. ‘Bloody Jew’, ‘hail Hitler’ and other slurs and smears. I’m talking at away (and even home) games in quiet suburbs of Johannesburg, on any given mid-week fixture. Of course we didn’t let it go. We either confronted it on the pitch, or walked off in protest - but always made them pay afterwards with disciplinary hearings, fines and bans. My point is, if it is wafting through the air and simmering in sunny Johannesburg, you can bet it’s everywhere else too.
Matt Turner New England goalie said in the build up to the game: “Part of the benefits of being a professional athlete is to be able to use your platform to bring light to issues that people aren’t so comfortable talking about.”
We all have a platform. Let’s use it.
Ilan Herrmann is publisher of the Jewish sports magazine Soul Sport and is based in Johannesburg South Africa. Ilan has been an educator and community activist for two decades and runs a non profit that brings relief to the disadvantaged in South African society.