How would you describe the reputation of British football today?
We’ve come a long way. You certainly won’t hear the abuse you would have heard on the terraces in the 70s, 80s, and 90s. In terms of the progress we’ve made relative to other countries, we are unmatched. Russia is a prime example of a country that still has a serious problem with racism. Comparatively we have a great deal to be proud of but, naturally, we still have a lot to do.
For example, we need to make sure that all forms of discrimination are dealt with as seriously as racism, both in terms of limiting its presence in football and educating people about it. Also, we have concerns about discrimination on social media. We ran a campaign during the summer of 2016 called Klick It Out which focused on the levels of football-related discriminatory posts on social media. Working with Brandwatch, a social monitoring and analytics company, we discovered there were 135,000 direct discriminatory posts towards Premier League clubs and players in 2016/17 and approximately 22,000 cases of direct discriminatory abuse during Euro 2016 itself – it was appalling.
Have you witnessed racist or homophobic behaviour when you’ve been at a football game?
Yes, I have. Most of us at Kick It Out have. We go to a lot of football games. We go to the English Football League, Premier League, the Women’s Super League, and grassroots games. I’d say there were very few people in our team who haven’t seen or heard something. When I witnessed it I spoke to the person doing it because I thought it was an absolute disgrace. What I saw was then a bit of a ripple effect because other people also told him to shut up!
Reporting discrimination is vital and we are a reporting bureau with a full-time reporting officer. We also developed a reporting app that allows people to report directly through to us. People say we’re trying to sanitise the game – quite simply that’s rubbish. We want a fantastic atmosphere, with all the drama of football, but without discrimination.
Have you noticed a difference in the way clubs respond to racism?
There has been a shift. Clubs don’t want to be seen as being racist. That is
also true of their sponsors. Big brands are aware of the power of diversity and inclusion. If they’re putting their money into clubs they want to make sure it’s a safe and secure environment to go into. Diversity makes good business sense, as well as moral sense.
How has the remit of Kick It Out developed?
When I came into the role the first thing I did was refocus our objectives because they needed to be about all forms of discrimination. Kick It Out can’t just say: “We’re only going to deal with racism”. We can’t say: “You may see some homophobia but we don’t deal with that.” When I became CEO, Kick It Out was very specifically mandated to deal with racism. As an organisation, we were trying to do some work in dealing with anti-semitism and homophobia, but not enough.
At that stage, transitioning into tackling general discrimination was incremental not revolutionary. It was very much my view, and the view of the trustees, that we needed to tackle all forms of discrimination, not just racism. As a third-party reporting bureau, racism still accounts for approximately half of our reports, but we’re seeing trends towards dealing with faith-related hate crime and divisive behaviour around homophobia and transphobia. If you ask a typical football fan, “Do you know what Kick It Out is about?” they may still say that “It’s that anti-racism campaign”.
What we’re trying to do is show that we deal with all forms of discrimination and that it’s not just about using t-shirts and match-day programmes to take on racism. We do so much more than that. We deliver programmes such as Fans for Diversity (a jointly funded campaign with the Football Supporters’ Federation to target fan-led initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion) and the “Next 20” ambassador scheme with players from across the professional game. Kick It Out also works jointly with the Premier League to deliver equality and inclusion training for clubs’ academy players, staff, and parents, while Raise Your Game is the organisation’s mentoring series aiming to provide pathways to work in the football industry and diversify football’s workforce.
“We need to make sure that all forms of discrimination are dealt with as seriously as racism, both in terms of limiting its presence in football and educating people about it”
How important is diversity within the leadership in football?
Very important. It’s still very male-orientated at the top and predominantly white. So it’s our job to bring people in as well as to encourage them and mentor them. We are working to support the development of diverse people filling senior roles in football and beginning to influence boards, which in our view is vital. We must influence the boards, fans, players, leagues, managers and the grassroots clubs. It’s crucial that all these stakeholders are educated about equality.
How do you go about educating these stakeholders?
We deliver diversity training in Premier League clubs’ academies through a programme called Equality Inspires – which we run in partnership with the Premier League – which educates young players, their parents and club staff. We also have a Professional Players Engagement Manager whose job is to talk to all the players, support them and explain exactly what we do. He will, for example, educate them around dressing room culture and “banter”.
Recently, we started a relationship with the League Managers Association to support managers and coaches who are sometimes nervous about challenging established practices. This is vital as often they manage the most diverse part of the club. Managers are running teams with players who are from different faiths. Does every manager know how to support them? How will a manager cope if a player comes and talks to them about any instances of discrimination? Are they confident on how they can support the player to get the best out of them? Are they confident that the changing room dynamics will stay the same or change for the better?
How do you go about getting clubs to understand the message and ingrain diversity and tolerance into their culture? Education! You have to build a bridge and get them to understand what it’s like to be racially abused or discriminated against. We’ve been working with The FA and the football authorities for years and what we ask is for each person to imagine what it would be like if it happened to them. Imagine if it was their child who reported an incident. Processes need to understand the whole human element. They need to be transparent and reports should be resolved as quickly as possible. It’s exactly the same with clubs which have a huge Asian fan base, for example, but who don’t want to visit the stadium. We need to encourage the clubs to be thinking:
“What can we do to make the atmosphere of the stadium more inclusive? Is it a prayer room? Is it different food?”
We have tried to put together a holistic model for how clubs and communities can better work together. That’s what we’ve done quite successfully with clubs like Bradford City and Sunderland. When the clubs “get it” and understand, then all of a sudden you start to find the development of a more diverse fan base. You see LGBT groups like “Gay Gooners” or “Proud Canaries” being established, for example, and an environment where people feel comfortable to attend football matches whatever their race, gender, or sexuality.