Tottenham Hotspur has released its review of supporters’ use of the Y-word after a long period, starting in 2019, during which it actively engaged with fans’ opinions on the subject, and in today’s report has formally urged its fans to “move on” from its use. The recommendation was made after recent surveys about the use of the word, its history, and its modern-day context, and the club made its official position known in a release on Tottenham’s official website.
We pride ourselves on being an inclusive and progressive Club and are aware of the growing cultural sensitivities globally.
We have already seen several sports entities and franchises make appropriate changes to nicknames and aspects of their identities in recognition of evolving sentiment.
As a Club, we always strive to create a welcoming environment that embraces all our fans so that every one of our supporters can feel included in the matchday experience.
It is clear the use of this term does not always make this possible, regardless of context and intention, and that there is a growing desire and acknowledgment from supporters that the Y-word should be used less or stop being used altogether.
We recognise how these members of our fanbase feel and we also believe it is time to move on from associating this term with our Club.
— Excerpt from statement, Tottenham Hotspur
In its surveys and focus groups of fans about use of the Y-word, both those who regularly attend matches and those who don’t, the club noticed several patterns from the data (reproduced verbatim from the club’s release):
• Members of our fanbase feel uncomfortable with the Y-word’s continued use at matches.
• Supporters who were prepared to defend their position on why they use the term expressed an openness to its use being reduced if it caused offence to fellow fans.
• Supporters, especially those of a younger generation, are often unaware of the term’s meaning and its historical context when chanting it.
• That now, more than ever, is the time to re-assess and re-consider its ongoing use.
The use of the Y-word at Tottenham goes back decades and was adopted in the 1970s as an attempt by Spurs fans, who had a strong local Jewish following, to deflect anti-semitic abuse directed at them by supporters of other clubs. In that context, the word “flipped the script” on an otherwise anti-semitic term used to describe Jews at a time when abuse in the terraces was rampant. However, in the modern context, the history of Spurs’ use of the Y-word has become... squishy. Spurs noted in their report that the historical context of the word’s use among younger fans has quite often been lost, with younger supporters frequently thinking the Y-word just refers to Spurs fans and not in any other context.
The club’s report seems to suggest a growing sentiment that continued use of the word no longer reflects the club’s increasing effort to be socially progressive and supportive for all Spurs fans. Tottenham launched a new informational portal titled The WhY Word that the club hopes will continue to educate supporters as to why it needs to distance itself from its use.
This is very obviously the right decision for the club to take, but it will just as clearly take time for the sentiment to take root among a majority of Spurs fans, especially those to regularly attend matches. The embracing of an anti-semitic term was a positive way for Spurs fans at the time to deflect abuse when anti-semitism was largely going unrecognized and unpunished by the Football League and other clubs. That landscape has shifted, and as more and more distance is put between the time of its original use by Spurs fans and today, both its effectiveness as a tool of social justice and its message within context has been diluted.
Society shifts and changes, and things that were once considered “tradition” are now seen as less acceptable. We are seeing this in American sports, specifically relating to the use of Native American depictions and imagery — the recent decisions of Cleveland’s MLB franchise to move from the Indians to the Guardians, and the NFL’s Washington franchise’s recent name change from a Native American slur to the Commanders are but two examples. Those rudders of change are frequently slow to move; it has taken decades of discussion and slow progress for Native American imagery to start to disappear from sports teams.
Tottenham’s issue is less of formal club identity and more that of how fans identify themselves, which is a thorny problem. And while there’s a limit to what the club can do to prevent fans from using the Y-word, they are taking appropriate steps by (politely) asking supporters to refrain and by providing education on the issue. Some will see this as too little at the present time, but it is an important first step in doing what feels like an impossibility — slowly changing a club’s culture.