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Berlin: European soccer can bring out some of the best – and the worst – in people. Racism belongs in the latter category, and clubs across the continent continue to struggle with how to address discrimination and even violent assaults.

The railway tracks leading to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau near Oswieciem in Poland.

The railway tracks leading to the former Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau near Oswieciem in Poland.Credit:AP

For decades, major teams resorted to banning offenders, but the English Premier League club Chelsea is now trying a new approach by sending racist fans on educational trips to former Nazi concentration camps.

"If you just ban people, you will never change their behavior," Chelsea Chairman Bruce Buck told the Sun newspaper on Thursday, providing details about a project the club announced at the beginning of the year.

Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich is Jewish and was granted Israeli citizenship earlier this year.

Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich is Jewish and was granted Israeli citizenship earlier this year. Credit:AP

"This policy gives them the chance to realise what they have done, to make them want to behave better."

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The move is part of a concerted push by the club to tackle anti-Semitism. While club officials have repeatedly stressed that it's about the rise of anti-Semitism globally, the club specifically has faced criticism for discriminatory chants by fans.

The club is owned by Roman Abramovich, a Russian-Israeli Jewish billionaire. In November 2016, Chelsea fans made headlines when they chanted anti-Jewish slogans, targeting fans of rival club Tottenham Hotspur.

Chelsea's chairman Bruce Buck.

Chelsea's chairman Bruce Buck.Credit:AP

The club's new measures to combat anti-Semitism began about a year later, in January, with a video campaign.

"Historically, we reacted with punishments, with bans of one sort or another. But over the last year or so, we've come to the view that discrimination can best be dealt with through education," Buck told the Jerusalem Post in January.

Besides the planned visits to concentration camps, Chelsea is also holding workshops and movie screenings at schools or during fan forums. A hotline has been set up where fans can report discriminatory incidents.

"We're not naive to think that our little program is going to solve anti-Semitism, but we are hopeful that if we do something and it's just a little bit successful, then other sports clubs and other institutions like ours will also pick up the cudgel and engage in similar activities," Buck said.

In fact, Chelsea isn't the first institution to offer educational Auschwitz trips to tackle anti-Semitism. In April, Germany's most prestigious music awards were scrapped after rappers Kollegah and Farid Bang won with lyrics in which they claimed that their bodies are "more defined than those of Auschwitz inmates." In a different song, the rappers boasted that they'll "make another Holocaust."

Months later, the two agreed to visit Auschwitz for an educational trip, where guides described their reaction as "shocked." Kollegah, recently recalling the trip, said he would "never use words like those again."

But other visits took a very different turn.

In July, historians urged Germany's domestic spy agency to place the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party under surveillance, after supporters had doubted the existence of Nazi gas chambers during a visit to the former concentration camp of Sachsenhausen.

The Nazis killed tens of thousands of prisoners in Sachsenhausen during World War II. The trip to the former concentration camp near Berlin was taxpayer-funded, but had to be interrupted as anti-Semitic remarks by participants mounted.

Washington Post

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