Bruce Buck, Chairman of Chelsea FC, Sets an Example for Sports Clubs Around the World
December 7, 2020
Bruce Buck is the Chairman of Chelsea Football Club, a British football club with an international fanbase founded in 1905. In the early years of its formation, Chelsea quickly became a very popular team in the country’s capital, attracting as many as 40,000 fans to a match in 1910. To this day, their fan base has grown to millions around the world, and the team has won six coveted Premier League titles.
Chairman Bruce Buck and Club Owner Roman Abramovich have made fighting anti-Semitism a priority for Chelsea on the global stage. The club launched “Say No to Antisemitism” in order to educate its players, supporters, and football fans generally about the dangers of prejudice and hatred. The campaign was the first of its kind. Since then, the Premier League itself has adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. CAM spoke to Bruce Buck to learn more about how Chelsea’s campaign touched millions around the world.
In recent years we have witnessed rising anti-Semitism across the globe. Why do you think it is so important for sports clubs like Chelsea FC to lead the fight against prejudice and be among the first to react?
Football is the world’s most popular sport. Week in week out, millions of people of different ages and backgrounds flock to watch their idols and passionately support their team. This gives the sport, the club and the players a lot of influence and the ability to make a difference on and off the pitch.
At Chelsea FC, we believe passionately in using the power of football to support good causes. The Club’s charitable leg, Chelsea Foundation, gives around $10m per year, making us the largest community organisation in English football.
Our club owner, Mr. Abramovich, initiated the Say No to Antisemitism Campaign to tackle the scourge of anti-Semitism in the UK and around the world. For us it was a matter of doing the right thing and using the resources we have to contribute to this important fight.
Since you launched the “Say No to Antisemitism” campaign, how has it impacted Chelsea FC players and fans?
Since the launch of the campaign, we have carried out a number of educational activities in collaboration with our partners, and used our social media following, which numbers about 100 million, to spread our message – that anti-Semitism, and any form of discrimination, has no place in football or in our communities.
We engaged our fans before launching the campaign, and they have been instrumental in both coming up with ideas for activities and also in being part of spreading this message. We took about 350 fans to Auschwitz, and anyone who has made that journey knows that it really remains a memory for life and changes your perspective. Several Holocaust survivors have also been invited to share their stories with our players and fan groups, something which has left a very strong impression on all of us.
We also host regular activities in London where fans are invited. As an example, in 2018, Mr. Abramovich contributed funds towards the new Holocaust Gallery at the Imperial War Museum. Both fans and players have since visited the museum to learn more about WW2 and the Holocaust.
How should football clubs and other sports clubs around the world deal with the issue of anti-Semitism?
Recognising that anti-Semitism is an issue is a good step for everyone. Earlier this year, Chelsea FC officially adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, becoming the first sports team in the world to do so. Adopting the IHRA definition is very important as you cannot deal with a problem if you don’t define it. We are very pleased that the Premier League have now also adopted this definition, and are working just like us to deal with the issue of anti-Semitism.
Out of all your work in fighting anti-Semitism, which aspect of the Chelsea FC campaign are you most proud of?
We have done so many projects I am thankful to have taken part in. We brought the men’s team to the U.S. for a charitable match raising $4 million for organizations fighting anti-Semitism. The same year, we took the women’s team to Israel, bringing together Arab and Jewish girls to play football together and showing how sport can be a force for good and unity. These are just two examples. We will continue to fight anti-Semitism in any way we can. I hope our projects will in their own way help make a difference, and I am very proud of the support we have received from our fans and players.
What advice would you give to other senior chairmen regarding the importance of fighting hatred and bigotry?
Since we started our “Say No To Antisemitism” campaign, we have become convinced that education is absolutely key to making a difference. Education, building the understanding of our history, plays an important role in changing attitudes. If we focus on education first in regard to these issues, we will have a long-lasting impact. I think my colleagues and counterparts can start there.
Since planning delegations to Auschwitz and hosting Holocaust survivors, how has your perspective on the Holocaust changed? What have your players learnt from those experiences?
I have become convinced that we need to do more to ensure we never forget about this horrific time in history and keep the memory of survivors alive. All of our projects are focused on educating as broadly as possible around these issues. I believe that all of these initiatives will help move the needle towards a more peaceful and tolerant society and that is why we all need to keep doing them and finding new ways to use our platforms for good causes.
What is your message to young people who watch and love football?
Keep loving the game and your team and don’t forget that football has an enormous power to it – we should all make sure to use that power for good causes.
Chairman Bruce Buck‘s leadership sets an example to those around the world who love football, reminding us that initiatives to combat anti-Semitism should not only emanate from the governmental level. Civil society leaders can and should step up and take action to combat hatred.