National Edition

European soccer clubs spark discussion on religious tolerance

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 13 2013 3:35 p.m. MST

Ajax's Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, rear, and Celtic's Emilio Izaguirre, front, vie for the ball during the Champions League Group H soccer match between Ajax Amsterdam and Celtic Glasgow at ArenA stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013. Ajax is being fined about $33,500 after its fans showed a religiously insulting banner aimed at Celtic, a Scottish soccer club that draws its fans from the Catholic community.

Peter Dejong, Associated Press

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European soccer clubs with religious ties are sparking a debate across the pond about religious tolerance.

One high-profile European soccer club has been fined after its fans displayed a banner with a religious insult for a recent opponent, while another is strictly debating its unofficial nickname.

Ajax, an Amsterdam-based soccer club, is being fined about $33,500 after its fans showed a religiously insulting banner aimed at Celtic, a Scottish soccer club that draws its fans from the Catholic community, according to the Associated Press.

The Daily Mail reported the “banner carried a sectarian message and appeared in the same area of the ground as flags pertaining to the 'F-Side' hooligan group of Ajax fans.” F-Side has a storied history of causing disruption during soccer matches for Ajax, which in the past has associated heavily with the Jewish community.

UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, said it was "improper conduct" by fans, the AP reported.

Celtic isn’t the only European soccer club dealing with religious insults. Tottenham Hotspur, a London-based team, is facing a similar situation as the Washington Redskins of the NFL. Tottenham is commonly known in England and Europe, by fans and foes alike, as the “Yids,” a moniker with a connection to the team’s Jewish connection, according to The Jewish Week.

“For decades, their neighborhood has had a substantial Jewish population; today, it’s haredi,” reported The Jewish Week. “The biggest current investor, Joe Lewis, is Jewish, as is the chairman, Daniel Levy, and a past chairman, Alan Sugar.”

The “Yids” nickname, though, came when fans were bombarded with Jewish insults, The Jewish Week reported.

“It emanates from the fact that Tottenham is known for various reasons for being a Jewish team,” said Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, the U.K.’s oldest and largest Jewish newspaper, to The Jewish Week. “People would yell ‘Yids’ at Tottenham, so they turned it around and used it as a badge of honor.”

The nickname has sparked debates in the United Kingdom much the same way the Redskins’ name is stirring up discussion stateside, The Jewish Week reported. This comes at a time when the European Jewish community says there is a heightened amount of anti-Semitism in Europe.

But the “Yids” moniker isn’t completely a form of hate speech, Pollar told The Jewish Week.

“When it’s chanted, it’s chanted as a term of endearment,” Pollard told The Jewish Week. “It’s very obvious if you’re standing outside a synagogue and a skinhead Nazi yells ‘Yid’ at you, it’s clearly meant as hate speech. If you’re with 5,000 other Jews, all of whom are chanting the word ‘Yid,’ it’s not meant in any way as hate nor is it received by other people as hate.”

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