Op-ed: Sports and Anti-Semitism

By Robert Singer, Chairman of the Center for Jewish Impact

Wednesday, January 27th, 2021

Sport and Anti-Semitism

By Robert Singer, Chairman of the Center for Jewish Impact

 

Social processes have always been easily identifiable in the field of sport even before they appear in society at large. Antisemitism, racism and hatred have found their way into sports arenas, where their manifestation has been accepted with less criticism than in society as a whole.

However, this process also takes place in reverse. When star athletes join the struggle for social justice and equality, as has recently occurred in the USA, they have the power to influence politics. Admired athletes like NBA star LeBron James influence tens of millions of fans around the world through social networks, and their impact often exceeds that of senior politicians.

One of the challenges the world will face once the Covid-19 pandemic is over, will be fighting racism and antisemitism, particularly in sports arenas. The wave of antisemitism in European soccer prior to the breakout of Covid-19 demonstrated that the struggle to eradicate such phenomena was far from over. The pandemic only encouraged hatred and antisemitism, with social media replacing the sports arenas. For peddlers of hatred, this is a time for regrouping before transferring their antisemitic attacks back from the virtual world to the real one, into political and social circWhat will happen when sports stadiums are filled with spectators again? Sports arenas are where the young and older generations share an experience with a wide-ranging impact. Seventy-six years after the liberation of Auschwitz, it seems that the need for education and public advocacy are greater than ever before, as incredible as this may be. Profanity and imagery that disparages the Holocaust and the memory of all its traumatic events have become increasingly popular in sports arenas in Europe and the United States. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the number of antisemitic incidents in the USA in 2019 was 12 percent higher than in the previous year, while the number of attacks increased by 56 percent. If anyone thinks that sports arenas evade these statistics, they are, of course, mistaken.

Sport is a highly accurate social seismograph, and we must identify which way its pen points as early as possible. The many accumulating testimonies demonstrate that forgetting the horrors that took place 76 years ago requires us to take action, and it is our duty to do so without delay.

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does,” said Nelson Mandela. Enlisting sports stars and sports ambassadors around the world to combat antisemitism and impart knowledge about the Holocaust to the young generation is more important than ever these days, when agents of information are changing and fake news is taking center stage.

 

Therefore, the Center for Jewish Impact, which I head, is launching a special campaign in which top athletes from Israel and other countries are participating and sharing their personal experience in encountering antisemitism and racism, and talking about the huge power of sport in combating these phenomena.

The sports heroes of the young generation must build on their status, impart knowledge and remind others of the horrific events that occurred in the mid-20th century. It is essential to remember and to remind others that there are people who continuously try to distort the truth, and worse, cease to engage in the historical discourse. We must hope that more and more influential forces for good in the world will join this struggle.