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Fans for Diversity: Fans visit Bergen-Belsen

You may be familiar with our Free Lions Fans’ Embassy – a mainstay of major tournaments – but Euro 2024 also provided our Fans for Diversity team a chance to take part in a special event commemorating the victims of the Holocaust in Bergen last week.

Fans for Diversity campaign manager Nilesh Chauhan tells us about the experience:

Last week I had the privilege of attending a deeply moving event alongside the FA and its England Supporters Travel Club coming together in the town of Bergen, Germany.

More than 40 of us gathered in northern Germany to visit the site of the former Nazi concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen. This visit was co-organized by the Cultural Foundation of the German Football Association (DFB), the World Jewish Congress, and What Matters, a group dedicated to combating antisemitism in sports.

This event formed part of the DFB’s Football and Remembrance initiative, which aims to connect football fans with the history of the Holocaust through visits to historically significant sites like concentration camps and museums. The goal is to foster a deeper understanding of how sport can bridge the past and promote unity.

The timing of our visit, a day after England’s 1-0 victory over Serbia in Gelsenkirchen, added a profound layer to the experience.

It was incredible to see fans from diverse backgrounds come together for such an important cause. We participated in a wreath-laying ceremony and took a guided tour of the memorial site at Bergen Belsen.

The camp, where up to 50,000 people were killed during World War II, including Anne Frank and her sister Margot, is a reminder of the atrocities committed.

Dal Singh Darroch, head of the FA’s diversity and inclusion strategic programs, said: “It was a very sobering and insightful day.

“Talking to the fans throughout the day, I know they really appreciated the opportunity, and the experience was one they will never forget. It’s crucial for our organisation and supporters to participate in visits like this to learn from the past and use our game to bring people closer together.”

We were honoured to have Lord John Mann, the UK Government’s independent advisor on anti-semitism and a member of the FA’s antisemitism taskforce, with us.

“The fans were unanimous in their feeling that it was hugely worthwhile,” John said. “We learned about Bergen-Belsen’s history and the connection to British soldiers involved in the liberation, which next year marks 80 years.

“It was highly appropriate that the FA wanted to be involved and it’s very pleasing there was such a big take up.”

Representatives from Maccabi GB, the Board of Deputies, joined the FSA and FA.

Reflecting on the visit, I can say it was incredibly educational and rewarding to spend time with fellow fans. It was an honour to be part of such an important visit during the Euros.

Karan Rai from the Apna England supporters group, said: “The amazing thing about following England away is having opportunities like this to learn about the history of other countries and to bring fans together.

“The visit was a really sobering experience and quite emotional. It also reminded us of the importance of kicking out racism, prejudice and discrimination in society and football is a major tool that can play a huge part in that.

“I took a lot away from the day and there will be quite haunting things that I saw that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I hope all of us that went on the visit can use that experience to make society better and inform others about the atrocities that occurred there.”

The unity and shared purpose displayed by the fans during this visit were truly inspiring. It reinforced the power of football to not only entertain but also to educate and bring people together for meaningful causes.

Fans For Diversity is a campaign programme run in partnership between the Football Supporters’ Association and Kick It Out, English football’s equality and inclusion organisation. Fans For Diversity encourages, funds and supports initiatives by fan groups to promote diversity and inclusion in football, and to challenge all forms of discrimination.

For more information on funding available from the campaign, contact Hannah Kumari or Nilesh Chauhan.

Funding partners

  • The Football Association
  • Premier Leage Fans Fund

Partners

  • Gamble Aware
  • Co-operatives UK
  • FSE
  • Kick It Out
  • Level Playing Field
  • Living Wage Foundation
  • Pledgeball