Racism Row Spreads to Anti-Semitism at the Lane

Last week, the Chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, Peter Herbert, threatened to report Tottenham to the police if they do not take action to prevent their fans using the `Y-word`. This has sparked a fierce debate amongst football fans; is it wrong to use discriminatory language even if it is used in a positive sense?

One of Tottenham Hotspur fans’ favourite chant is `Jermain Defoe, he’s a Yiddo`. Defoe is not of Jewish descent and despite a rigorous search; I have found nothing (even on the internet) that suggests he practices the Jewish faith. Furthermore, this is not to insult the player, but as a show of support. After Herbert made his threat, Tottenham Hotspur released a statement saying that they were not inclined to agree with Herbert and in the eyes of the law `the distinguishing factor is the intent with which it [the Y word] is used`. It would therefore seem as though the Tottenham fans are not doing anything wrong in the eyes of the law because their intent is harmless and they are not using the term in order to offend.

Another important fact to consider is the reasoning behind Tottenham fans association with this word. Tottenham has had a large group of Jewish supporters throughout their history and as a result have experienced a large amount of anti-Semitism from rival fans, including hissing to imitate gas chambers as a reference to the Holocaust.

Also mentioned in the Tottenham statement was that fans use the term as a defence mechanism, there is some logic to the theory of embracing an insult in order to deflect it. Herbert says this `wouldn’t make sense to a six-year-old`, but six-year-olds do not understand many coping strategies, which is why they cry so much, so that is hardly a relevant argument. Moreover, many would argue that Peter Herbert has his own agenda in mind with these arguments; Herbert is a supporter of creating a separate union for black football players and whether or not this is his motive, any publicity relating to discrimination will highlight his cause. Only a week earlier, Herbert reported Mark Clattenberg to the police for alleged racist abuse towards John Obi Mikel, despite not being present at the game.

While Herbert’s motives could be described as suspect, the sentiment is important and there is clearly an issue to be addressed. Tottenham fans do not use the term with malice, but clearly some people are offended and this is unacceptable. Football is a form of entertainment; it is therefore tragic if some fans feel uncomfortable attending matches because of words said by other fans. David Baddiel has been campaigning for a zero tolerance policy on the word `yid` for a number of years. He is a Jewish Chelsea supporter and explains that it is very distressing to hear Chelsea fans referring to Tottenham fans in a negative sense, and using the term `yid`. This is clearly deplorable and should be addressed in some way, however Herbert’s aggressive strategy aimed at Tottenham Hotspur Football Club might be misguided.

The aim in football must be to stamp out all forms of discrimination. It is outrageous that a football ground ever became a place where discriminatory views should be voiced. Regardless of whether it is about race, sex or creed – discrimination has no place at a football ground. However, threatening legal action against Tottenham is not the way to go about solving this.

It could be argued that the fight against racism has come a lot further in the past thirty years than the fight against anti-Semitism. It is great news that whenever there is any form of discrimination against black people, there is an uproar which leads to punishment and prevention, such as the scandals of the last year involving Terry, Suarez and the Serbian fans at their Under 21 match with England. Hopefully this means that discrimination against black people can be kicked out of the game completely and permanently. However, the fight against anti-Semitism has not had as high a profile and as a result is much further back in the journey to eradication from the game.

The best way to move forward is unclear. Obviously there should be a zero tolerance attitude to anyone using anti-Semitic language in a negative context towards Jews. However if people are referring to Tottenham, a different attitude has to be applied. One scenario which would perhaps suit all parties would be if the word begins to develop a new connotation relating to Tottenham and not Judaism, which is happening already to an extent. Of course there are still plenty of people who use it in an anti-Semitic way, but within the context of football it is mostly used as a reference to Tottenham supporters.

If this trend continues then there will be no issue with discrimination and the topic can be dropped. However if there are regular references to Judaism and specifically the Holocaust, then this discrimination has to be dealt with; first by the fans who use it in a negative sense and then, some may say unfortunately, by those who have adopted the term as a badge of honour.

Nathan Lester


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