The German-Israeli Fan Exchange – Soccer Fans Against Racism and Discrimination

Watching the game and cheering on your team – when young soccer fans get together, the whole world seems to revolve around nothing else but the game. But many young soccer enthusiasts also know the objectionable side of the sport. Racism and anti-Semitism often rear their ugly heads at soccer games. This problem has not gone unnoticed by the young fans of Werder Bremen, Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem, Hapoel Bnei Sachnin and Maccabi Netanja – fans of this last club most recently won a prize commending their active engagement against racism. In October 2010 these young fans meet in Bremen to share their passion for soccer and to discuss ways to combat prejudices. A unique aspect to this year’s program is that for the first time since the exchange began in 2006, Israeli fans with an Arab background are participating, bringing a new perspective with them to the program.

It comes as no surprise that the exchange includes tickets to two Werder Bremen games and the possibility to kick around a ball in the Bremen Sport Complex. At the Werder Bremen Open House, the guests from Israel have the opportunity to get to know the Premier League Club a little better. Alongside expert talks about goal-scoring chances or overhead kicks, sightseeing in Bremen and Berlin, the group discusses both amongst themselves and as part of the official program the interlocking themes of exclusion and togetherness not only in soccer but also in the more general sense. As part of this main program objective, the group will attend a commemoration ceremony at the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp Memorial, visit the Jewish Community in Bremen, as well as social organizations. The presentations and workshops with fan club representatives and local politicians are at the center of the fan exchange meeting. Questions are being tackled such as, how does racism manifest itself inside the soccer stadium? What are the differences in this regard between Germany and Israel? What should one do when confronted with violence? These are just a sample of the questions that are not just theoretical but a part of the group’s everyday life as soccer fans. The most rewarding part of the program is the space to exchange and learn from one another’s experiences. This is also true for the week’s highlight: The group will have the chance to participate in the day of action “For Diversity – Against Discrimination,” which is part of the match between Werder Bremen and SC Freiburg.

The young German and Israeli soccer fans work together toward the program’s objectives, which include improving the integration of migrants on and off the playing field, reducing racist and anti-Semitic prejudices, and strengthening international networking between fan clubs. This will be a meeting with concrete results. These young adult participants will take their experiences and knowledge back to their respective fan circles. This is the beginning of a new fan culture being built by both the program’s initiators and its participants, for example during the return visit in Israel.

The Fan Project Bremen e.V. has been organizing exchanges for young German and Israeli soccer fans between the ages of 18 and 27 since 2006. Together with the educational center for intercultural encounter “Dialog” near Haifa, as well as since 2007 with the organization of Israeli soccer fans “Israfans.” In Bremen from October 13 to 22, 2010, fans from different professional soccer clubs in Israel meet with fans of Werder Bremen.