Chelsea chief executive Guy Laurence discusses fight against antisemitism in TV debate

Chelsea’s chief executive Guy Laurence believes the club’s Say No To Antisemitism campaign, launched last year, is having a positive effect in terms of self-policing by supporters inside the stadium when offensive behaviour occurs.

Laurence (pictured above) was taking part in a television debate shown on Sky Sports on Monday night as part of their Tackling Racism series. This edition was dedicated to the subject of antisemitism in football and others on the panel were Chelsea fan, writer and filmmaker Ivor Baddiel, Karen Pollock from the Holocaust Educational Trust with whom Chelsea has been working during our campaign, and a journalist from the Guardian newspaper, Jacob Steinberg, who is a West Ham supporter.

‘We have talked a lot about what the players are doing and what the club is doing,’ Laurence said during the debate, ‘but the most gratifying thing I think has been our fan groups. We have about 15 to 20 main fan groups who are part of our Fans’ Forum. They have gone through the education part of our campaign themselves and what is clear is that they have come together as one unit and have started to self-police in the stands.

‘We get feedback from the stands which is very important in terms of evidence collecting but it is also important people just turning to the person next to them and saying cut it out. That is before it is ever seen on the cameras or said in a loud way. That is a ray of hope in all of this. If the fan groups get together and combine and have the strength to tackle this head on then we can get it out of the stadiums once and for all.

‘This initiative came from our owner back in November 2017 after he had seen a rise in antisemitism across Europe and felt that we as a club should be doing something about it. We are in a position to do so given our fanbase and our ability to talk about an issue and be heard, and it is now right the way through the club. All of our staff are trained on this, all our stewards are trained, there is a lot of educational material and we took 145 players and staff to Auschwitz last year and 36 this year, so it is right at the core of the club.’

Chelsea’s participation for a second time in the March of the Living earlier this month was featured on the programme. The annual event takes place at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps and contrasts with the death marches forced upon victims during the Holocaust. A Holocaust survivor talking to our Women’s squad was shown.

Last week’s Final Whistle On Hate match and the activities around it in the United States also featured, including the Chelsea squad visiting the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston and David Luiz talking to children at a Boston school. Our chairman Bruce Buck was interviewed.

‘When you punish someone in certain situations, it only makes the situation worse,’ Buck explained during the interview. ‘It doesn’t make them not a racist, it makes them more a racist and we came to the view that with a certain level of incident it will be better to educate these people so they would no longer be an antisemite or a racist, and bring them back to Chelsea as a proper citizen.’

Read: Players visit New England Holocaust Memorial

The debating panel were in agreement that Chelsea offering offenders the chance to reduce stadium bans if they take part in an education programme is a wise move.

Laurence spoke about other aspects of the campaign.

‘We are not trying to claim the high ground, we are trying just to do our bit but everything we produce is available to other clubs. We created a guide for stewards, who have an important role in a stadium because they are looking after a group of fans. We distributed that to all clubs, not just in the Premier League, and we also have a meeting every time we have a home fixture with the other club to discuss a number of issues and this is high on the agenda.’

Pollock from the Holocaust Educational Trust said: ‘Chelsea has been a true model in this because this not ticking a box, this not some short-term initiative, it has longevity and it means people are properly invested in understanding. By stewards understanding and learning about the Holocaust, they are going to intervene and feel confident and equipped to say when something is wrong, and similarly the educational programme the club are taking on with people who are guilty of saying and doing things that are more than inappropriate.

‘Also, it is powerful seeing David Luiz talking in that way about why this is important. Footballers communicate with our nation in a way I wish my organisation could. They are saying this matters and we have to stand up and do something about it. It sets the strongest example possible.’

The Y word and its use in football, including by Tottenham fans as a response to it being used against them, was also debated.

‘It creates confusion,’ said Laurence. ‘We take guidance from the World Jewish Council and the Board of Deputies and they have said it is offensive, so as far as we are concerned it is offensive. That is the policy that we reflect in the terms and conditions at Stamford Bridge and we will continue to do so. Tottenham have taken a different view.’

Baddiel considered the overall Say No To Antisemitism campaign.

‘Chelsea are not just paying lip service to it. They launched the campaign on my birthday when we lost 3-0 to Bournemouth, it was awful! They could have launched it and it dribbled on for a bit and got forgotten but no.

‘I made a film through Chelsea for Kick It Out, understanding that it came right from the highest echelons, that we want to keep this going, we need another film, we need more efforts.

‘Change doesn’t happen overnight, it takes a long time to change people so you can’t just pay lip service to it. I know I am a Chelsea fan but that has nothing to do with it. As a Jew I really applaud Chelsea for what they are doing.’

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