Villa Park played host to an inaugural joint conference highlighting the collaborative work undertaken by two of Britain’s leading football anti-discrimination bodies
Show Racism the Red Card and Kick It Out, along with representatives from over half of all professional clubs, debated and discussed a range of issues related to equality and inclusion, and how both organisations work in tandem to help achieve goals around diversity.
Hugh Robertson, Minister for Sport and the Olympics, gave the campaigns his backing during the event’s opening address: “The events from this season prove there is still work to be done - anyone that feels this issue has been cracked is in dreamland. I stand absolutely full-square behind both organisations and felt it was important for me to come down here to show my support for the strides that have been made in combating racism.”
Emphasising the important role clubs have to play in raising awareness around equality issues, Ged Grebby, Chief Executive of Show Racism the Red Card, commented: “Football can show the way forward to society itself in how to tackle racism. We work with a whole range of organisations to get our anti-racism message across, and we’re looking for clubs we don’t currently have links with to come on board and support us too.”
Lord Herman Ouseley, Chair of Kick It Out, reiterated this message, focusing on how powerful a medium football can be in bringing about change: “We’re clear on the purposefulness of both of these organisations, how we can work in partnership with your clubs, and the roles we can all play in the fight for equality. We’re trying to manage behaviour and attitudes through football, and it is vital that everybody is made to feel comfortable in this environment.”
The day consisted of a set of workshops, one providing an introduction to Show Racism the Red Card’s educational training, focussing on the importance of recognising prejudice and promoting equality, and the other demonstrating how Kick It Out delivers sessions on homophobia in the game to academy scholars and County Football Associations (CFAs), where attendees were given an idea of how to implement equality work into their own practices.
Matt Lawson, Notts County’s Community Liaison Officer, found the workshops extremely beneficial: “It’s really important to talk about the different issues surrounding diversity with other clubs. It’s all about partnerships. We’ve been able to have some frank and open discussions, and it’s allowed us to look into how we can work together to convey a single, strong message.”
Applauding the content of the conference, Aqeel Akram, Diversity Officer at Wycombe Wanderers, said: “It’s been eye-opening for me. Both organisations are preaching the same message and working towards the same goal, and it’s good to see how we, as clubs, can become more involved.” Coventry City’s David Busst, former defender for the Sky Blues and now the club’s Community Manager, added: “The session on homophobia was particularly interesting as it’s an area of work I’m keen to learn more about.”
Rounding off the day, a panel discussion was held featuring representatives from SRtRC and KIO alongside Tony Higgins, Board Member of FIFPro and Simone Pound, Senior Equality Executive at the PFA. Ex-Wolverhampton Wanderers goalkeeper Matt Murray, Watford and England legend Luther Blissett, and former Oldham Athletic, Aston Villa and Everton defender Earl Barrett, completed the panel, giving a player’s perspective when it comes to race issues and how they’re handled within the professional game.
Whilst reflecting on his time at Molineux, recently-retired Matt focused on the key responsibility clubs have in eliminating discrimination within the dressing room: “If you’re going to ban a fan for life, or two or three years, for using a racist comment, then if a player does it, the club has to take a similar, very strong stance. At the end of the day, those on the field are role models to those in the stands. Change has to come from the top.”
Addressing all those in attendance by pointing out the progress which can be made going forward, Luther exclaimed: “There have been great strides made by both charities over the years. This has allowed us to get into the position where we can now openly discuss racism. The majority of people take on board what we’re saying, and the good turnout we’ve had at this event is an encouraging sign for the future.”
“Both organisations have a strong message for the same target areas,” concluded Roisin Wood, Kick It Out’s General Manager. “This event is about highlighting where we work collaboratively, but where we work differently too.”