Dortmund’s statement of Israeli friendship

German soccer CEO Watzke focuses his visit to Holy Land on the club's campaign to combat antisemitism.

BORUSSIA DORTMUND CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke speaks this week at Yad Vashem as part of his trip to Israel with the club’s senior management. (photo credit: MUKI SCHWARTZ)
BORUSSIA DORTMUND CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke speaks this week at Yad Vashem as part of his trip to Israel with the club’s senior management.
(photo credit: MUKI SCHWARTZ)

While the friendly match between Borussia Dortmund and Maccabi Netanya may have been postponed briefly, the friendship between the German soccer giant and Israel is in full force and as strong as ever.

This week, senior members of the team’s management – led by CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke – paid a visit to Israel aiming to strengthen social and business relationships with its Israeli partners, including businessmen and key figures in Israeli society.

On May 6, the club confirmed the postponement of the previously scheduled match, but recommitted to sending a prominent delegation to complete the planned program of May 15-18, including visits to Holocaust memorials and Yad Vashem and meeting with Maccabi Netanya’s board in order to discuss the final issues of the affiliation ent and the new date of the match.

Dortmund is also known as “BVB” – an acronym for Ballspiel-Verein Borussia (Borussia club for ball games in German). The actual correct name of the club is “BV Borussia 09 e.V. Dortmund”, with “09” pointing to 1909, the year of the club’s foundation.

Dortmund is one of the biggest clubs in German soccer, having won eight local championships and five trophies. Also, the club has one win in the Champions League, in the 1996/97 season after a final victory over Juventus.

BORUSSIA DORTMUND CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke speaks this week at Yad Vashem as part of his trip to Israel with the club’s senior management. (credit: MUKI SCHWARTZ)BORUSSIA DORTMUND CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke speaks this week at Yad Vashem as part of his trip to Israel with the club’s senior management. (credit: MUKI SCHWARTZ)

Former Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Peter Boss previously coached the team, as well as big names such as Liverpool coach today Jurgen Klopp and Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel.

“Beyond the town twinning of Dortmund and Netanya, both clubs combine the team colors black and yellow,” read a statement by Watzke on the club’s website.

“So we were really looking forward to the trip to Israel and the friendly game and meeting the fans of Maccabi Netanya, Israeli citizens and excited fans of BVB. But knowing from the start that this was a very ambitious project at such short notice, we now had to accept with a heavy heart that the trip could not be realized at the present time. We stand firm by the side of our many fans and friends in Israel. Postponed is not lifted – this is a promise!“

In addition to Watzke, one of the most senior figures in German football and the chairman of the board of the DFL (German Football League), the Dortmund’s VP of Business and Marketing Carsten Kramer and the head of the corporate responsibility department Daniel Loeiche spent a few days in the Holy Land.

Borussia Dortmund sees the trip as part of the club’s continuing fight against antisemitism with the connections to Israel dating back to a series of friendlies in 1971 before the club then held its winter training camp in the country in both 1991 and 1992.

The Jerusalem Post caught up with Watzke to discuss the trip.

“For me personally, this is a very special trip. I love Israel, I love the people. The attitude of people living in Israel is sometimes different than those in Germany and I love to be here and experience it.”

Among philanthropic and business initiatives, Dortmund invests many resources into the remembrance of the Holocaust through a unique program titled “United in Memory. United Against Antisemitism.” It also donated one million euros to Yad Vashem in 2019.

“After we as a club began working 10 or 12 years ago to try and combat antisemitism, I have seen in the last number of years that there is more antisemitism in society, and so we realized we had to make our work more intensive and we strengthened our partnership with Yad Vashem.”

As part of its ongoing efforts, Dortmund has established deep connections with the city’s Jewish community and is active in promoting education on Jewish life in Germany. The club also encourages fans, club employees and employees of the club’s sponsors to attend lectures about the Holocaust, such as conversations with survivors and tours through various concentration camps.

The club has tackled antisemitic chants in European soccer at the Changing the Chants conference and hosted a conference in cooperation with the German Football League (DFL) and the World Jewish Congress (WJC). Due to its program’s success, UEFA awarded BVB the Equal Game award in 2019.

When it comes to the ability of sports to be a vehicle for social change, Watzke had an important message.

“Professional sports in Germany has to be divided between clubs owned by oligarchs or foreign investors, state or private, from a club like Borussia Dortmund, which has 160,000 members. For our members, winning and losing is very important, but it isn’t only about that. Working within society and taking stands are social issues - not for any political party but just to take a stand - is vitally important

“Our club’s first president Franz Jacobi said in 1919 that ‘the quality of a football club is reflected in how well it fulfills its social responsibilities.’ We need a social balance and social trust as part of our identity.”

Commenting on the standing of Dortmund in the ranks of European soccer, Watzke took a big-picture perspective about weighing the balance of a club’s ownership structure and the product it can put on the field.

“Yes, there are clubs who have a lot, and I mean a lot, of money. If you are one of those clubs, like [Manchester] City, or PSG or whoever else, you do have a better chance to be successful on the pitch. There is a correlation between money and success in football, not all the time but for the most part. However, the price to be one of those five or six top clubs in the world would essentially be to give away your freedom to get foreign investments. But we would rather stay the way we are and for that we may not be the top club in Europe. But we will continue to try and develop the next stars.Like Sisyphus, we continue to push the stone.

“Even when we get the stone to the top, we could end up losing the player, like [Erling] Haaland or [Robert] Lewandowski a number of years ago. And then we start again on our next project.

“It may be a difficult cycle, but that is the only way to remain in a democratic ownership structure.”

While Dortmund is obviously not thrilled to use a player of Haaland’s quality, as the young superstar agreed to sign on with Manchester City for next season, Watzke is happy to see his young players excel, even if not in-house.

“But you can be sure we will find the next striker soon enough.”

To further enhance the grown ties between them, Maccabi Netanya and Dortmund have agreed to exchange and co-operate on different levels, such as know-how exchanges in fields like communications, fan liaison management, marketing, but as a very concrete measure also joint grassroots projects that will include a presence of the BVB Evonik football academy with BVB coaches in Israel in autumn of 2022.

“The Maccabi Netanya Club is proud of its unique cooperation with one of the leading clubs in the world,” said Maccabi Netanya CEO Niv Goldstein. “I have no doubt that the combination of forces between the two clubs will lead to new standards that will move Israeli football in general and Maccabi Netanya in particular on various and varied issues.“

As part of the visit, a gala evening was held in Tel Aviv in which the BVD management received an award for its activities to eradicate antisemitism from the Director of KKL – JNF in Germany, Paul Jurecky. Also at the event was Israeli Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor, who noted that through soccer it is possible to change people’s hearts and thinking.

Another guest of honor was the Minister for Social Equality Meirav Cohen, who noted in her speech “that we are grateful to the team members who inspire us and I sincerely hope that more football teams will follow in their footsteps.”

On the delegation’s visit to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Watzke signed the Yad Vashem guestbook and wrote: “We at Borussia Dortmund are proud of the cooperation and friendship with Yad Vashem! We are very committed to remember the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. This act of remembrance will forever be our duty and our responsibility!”

Watzke also participated, along with other senior members of the team’s management in a memorial service at the Yizkor tent and laid a wreath. They ended the tour in Yad Vashem with a personal testimony conversation with Holocaust survivor Rina Quint.

“Working with Yad Vashem is fantastic and actually over the last decade has become a part of the DNA of Borussia Dortmund as we continue to advocate against antisemitism in all forms.”