Since the start of the season, the Pro League has been working non-stop with Kazerne Dossin in the city of Mechelen to ban racist and discriminatory chants from our football stadiums permanently. The individual learning programmes that our partner has been offering supporters and club boards since December, complement the handbook that the Pro League published in 2019.
What does Kazerne Dossin do?
Kazerne Dossin is both a museum and a research centre. Starting from the historical story of the persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust in Belgium, the organisation reflects on contemporary phenomena of racism, exclusion and discrimination based on origin, religion, conviction, skin colour, gender, or orientation. According to Kazerne Dossin, the past offers learning moments for today.
What is interesting about these specific concerns in football is that Kazerne Dossin’s analysis looks into the origins of social problems in group dynamics and a toxic ‘we/they’ way of thinking. To counteract this, the Mechelen organisation provides workshops and training courses to various target groups such as students, police officers, security personnel and now football fans as well.
What does the cooperation with the Pro League consist of?
In the past, Kazerne Dossin shared all its expertise with the Pro League when drafting the handbook “Discriminerende en kwetsende spreekkoren en uitlatingen” (discriminatory and offensive chants and remarks). In addition, Kazerne Dossin, in collaboration with the Public Prosecutor's Office in Antwerp, set up learning programmes that offenders of the discrimination law could follow in exchange for their cases being dismissed.
This working method also forms the basis for the training that is offered to football fans, stewards, and club boards. Specifically, the collaboration consists of a reactive and a preventive pillar. Anyone who misbehaves in a football stadium and is banned from stadiums by his or her club will be referred to Kazerne Dossin for specific training. Only when that individual pathway has been completed can the supporter return to the stands.
The preventive part offered by Kazerne Dossin focuses on raising awareness among stewards, club officials, security personnel and also supporters’ associations. In football competitions, there is a clearly defined ‘we versus they’ relationship, both among club staff and supporters. This is not necessarily problematic but can sometimes lead to a toxic discourse (such as racism). Kazerne Dossin provides staff and Supporters Liaison Officers (SLOs) with insights into polarisation, peer pressure and we/they dynamics and their possible negative consequences. This enables them to proactively work within the organisation to create a positive climate.
Kazerne Dossin already had educational programmes, but for the needs of football it immersed itself in the world of the supporter. The courses are based on principles from literature and were adapted after several visits to professional matches with typical cases.
How are football fans supported by Kazerne Dossin?
Supporters who have been banned from attending football matches by their club can return to the stands early after completing an individual training course at Kazerne Dossin. This course consists of an introductory meeting at the club, during which the infringements and mutual expectations are discussed. This is followed by a tour of the museum, to give the supporters some historical insights. Kazerne Dossin applies the acquired knowledge to examples from football in order to get closer to the world of the football supporter. The guides from Kazerne Dossin receive specific training in 'football fans' in order to better empathize with this group.
The tour is followed by introspection. The supporter and the Kazerne Dossin together go in search of the reasons why he or she adopted a discriminatory manner. The fan’s political/religious views or personal negative experiences are explored. By means of interaction and confrontation, the football fan must be encouraged to reflect personally, based on his or her identity as a football supporter at a certain club.
Why is this collaboration necessary?
Football should be a party at all times. The Pro League strives to have its football matches take place in a familial and positive atmosphere. This ambition includes guaranteeing the safety and providing a sense of security for all fans in our football stadiums. Everyone is welcome in football and should be able to live their passion. Excluding or hurting individuals on the basis of origin, religion, conviction, skin colour, gender or orientation does not fit in with that vision.
The imposition of a stadium ban, via the club or the government, is often a necessary measure for fans who are guilty of racism or discrimination in the stadium. The Pro League is convinced, however, that excluding offenders of racist or discriminatory acts is not enough. It is our social responsibility to act in a targeted manner and to promote diversity in sports. By means of Kazerne Dossin's educational programmes, we want to impart this culture of inclusiveness to offenders on the one hand and teach clubs and staff to take an active role in the fight against racism and discrimination on the other.
When will the first courses start?
The courses with Kazerne Dossin have been operational since December 2021. Preventive sessions with club employees and safety officers will also take place in the near future. In time, the intention is that supporter associations will also be able to start a preventive learning programme.
The collaboration between the Pro League and Kazerne Dossin, which is made possible in part by Flemish Minister for Equal Opportunities Bart Somers, is also being expanded. For example, the National Chamber for Discrimination and Racism of the Royal Belgian Football Association (RBFA) now imposes the learning programme as an alternative sanction for professional clubs.
Thanks to financial support from the Minister of the Interior, Annelies Verlinden, through the King Baudouin Foundation, French-language courses are also being set up.