Chelsea Football Club chooses light over the darkness of antisemitism

As campaign continues in its second year, efforts grow stronger to educate, fight racism

Soccer Football - Premier League - Leicester City vs Chelsea - Leicester, Britain - September 9, 2017 Chelsea's Alvaro Morata celebrates scoring their first goal with Marcos Alonso. (photo credit: REUTERS/REBECCA NADEN)
Soccer Football - Premier League - Leicester City vs Chelsea - Leicester, Britain - September 9, 2017 Chelsea's Alvaro Morata celebrates scoring their first goal with Marcos Alonso.
GLASGOW - The Chelsea Football Club held a major fundraising event on Thursday to continue battling antisemitism in Britain, and with plans to expand its campaign to the US later this year.

Under the leadership of club owner Roman Abramovich, Chelsea FC dedicated the star-studded dinner to help finish funding a new expansive Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museums in London. The museum, which has a current Holocaust exhibit and opened in 2000, has its eyes set on revamping the exhibit’s narrative and to bring attention more profoundly to the community.

“Education and awareness is the long-term focus,” said Chelsea FC chairman Bruce Buck. “We were contacted by the trustee of the Imperial War Museums, and they explained they were planning to do a whole new Holocaust gallery, and maybe there was a way for us to work with them.”

The new section of the museum, scheduled to open in 2021, will take some of the existing material and integrate it with the World War II focus of the Imperial War Museums. In this way, the Holocaust’s account will be seen as part of the historic and social context that also influenced the war.

The football club, which recognizes the oddity of pairing a sports team with a slightly marred past of racist behavior and incidents among fans, sees that the great influence it has over its fans makes it all the more imperative for it to educate and change attitudes.

“We still have a few of those problems, they don’t go away all that easily, but we’ve had favorable reactions from our fans,” Buck said. “Football clubs are doing a lot of good activities in their community and around the world. They’re all doing projects that make sense for them and their constituents. No club has done a major thing with lots of projects and make it open-ended in terms of the term. But other clubs are doing it... and we’re happy to share our expertise that we’ve earned.”

The April 4 “Light from the Dark” fundraiser event worked to close the last stretch of funding for the museum. Around 300 attendees were treated to an evening of discussion with local Holocaust survivors, as led by stars such as comedian David Baddiel, director Michael Attenborough, and television courtroom celebrity Robert Rinder.

For the Imperial War Museums, moving forward the story of the Holocaust is an absolute must. The revamped Holocaust gallery will also be flanked by a new learning center within the museum, dedicated to providing comfortable spaces for groups and individuals to hold sessions. For the museum, highlighting stories of survivors is “to make sure that their experiences and the lessons we must learn are never forgotten,” said Imperial War Museums director-general Diane Lees.

Whereas the Holocaust exhibit has been an offshoot of the museum’s layout, the new galleries will be “at the central chronological fulcrum of our iconic London museum and linking them, architecturally and conceptually, to our Second World War Galleries,” Lees said.

As research has grown significantly since the original Holocaust exhibition opened nearly 20 years ago, the museum saw the need to include a more complete scale of the Nazis’ crimes, as well as those of their allies and collaborators, and to reframe the stories of Jewish life.

Whereas most Holocaust museums, as well as the current exhibit at the Imperial War Museums, are rather dark and tend to physically create a sense of “closing in” on its visitors, the new museum wants to flip this concept.

“Because we want to bring awareness that these crimes were not committed in the dark, in secret, but rather in full view,” said galleries curator and content leader James Bulgin. Bulgin said the new museum will be well-lit and airy, to create the sense that this was something that was public after all, and that general society allowed the Nazis to commit these crimes.

Chelsea FC’s campaign, titled “Say No to Antisemitism,” was launched January 2018, and has since seen its growth in collaborating with organizations, local fans and even looks ahead to its expansion in the US. In the meantime, Chelsea has created a guide for safety officers and stewards to combat antisemitism within its own home at Stamford Bridge, with the focus on educating those who spread antisemitism.

Previous work in the short time the campaign has launched included a strong partnership with the World Jewish Congress. The club participated in the “We Remember” campaign to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, and worked with the WJC on its Red Card for Hate initiative. The initiative is a three-pronged approach to combat racism, xenophobia, discrimination and antisemitism in sports.

The Pitch for Hope competition called on young people in the UK, the United States and in Israel to propose creative ideas for inspiring the spirit of camaraderie in sport and build bridges between different groups of people. Winners from the three countries were then invited to present their ideas at Stamford Bridge for Buck and also club director Eugene Tenenbaum, WJC CEO Robert Singer and others, including Chelsea Academy players.

The competition is expected to be expanded to France and Germany in the next year.

The club and the WJC also plan to stay in the face of fans by producing a series of videos to raise awareness about the effects of antisemitism and discrimination in general. Those videos have been shown during games and on social media platforms during this season, and will continue to be shown at future games.

The next phase of the initiative will be to host a special forum, which is planned to bring together national football associations, clubs, players, government officials and civil social representatives to share best practices, and create a space for open discussion and collaboration on the issue. The idea is to also help create a network of people and organizations for improving the fight against antisemitism in sports.

The club will also play in the US against the New England Revolution, which will also be doubled as an opportunity to raise further awareness of the issue on an international scale. Proceeds from this event will go toward survivors and families of October’s Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Tree of Life Congregation massacre.