Culture, Media and Sport Committee - Racism in FootballWritten evidence submitted by Sporting Equals


This submission is made on behalf of Sporting Equals, an independent UK-wide charity that promotes ethnic diversity and race equality in sport and physical activity.

Due to a lack of awareness, understanding and knowledge about discriminatory behaviour and racism the foundation for further work to address this issue lies within footballing bodies and clubs ensuring that they have appropriate policies, processes and practices in place.

Racism in football can be seen at all levels not just in the premier league. Whilst there has been positive progress made to tackle racism there is no room for complacency.

Disproportionate representation of those from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds throughout football (eg coaching, refereeing, and management) can lead to perception of racism and unwelcoming environments that perpetuate the problem and negative attitudes.

There is a significant BME community football sector that operates outside the mainstream. Some of this can be attributed to the perceived lack of support from affiliated leagues, racism and discrimination from the sporting community and dearth of visible role models involved in decision-making in football.

Lack of meaningful engagement by football providers (particularly at a local level) with BME groups due to lack of insight and know-how is significant.

The lack of diversity within governance structures not only fuels negative perceptions and attitudes, it ignores good business practice and often results in existing policies and procedures to deal with racism being unsupported.

Tackling and preventing racism needs to approached by taking action that encompasses a broad range of issues eg engaging BME communities, supporters, referees, coaches, ethnic media, grassroots activity, use of role models, legal levers.

There is some good practice already taking place that can be expanded.

It is important that politicians and decision makers in football continue to take a firm public stand against racism in Football. This should be a consistent and long term message.

1. Introduction

1.1 This submission is made by Sporting Equals who work across the sport and physical activity sectors to enhance ethnic diversity at all levels (from increasing participation through to diversity in the board rooms). We feel that to deal with racism properly we must also focus on tackling discrimination.

1.2 Sporting Equals is the leading expert on equality and diversity in sport. We are a strategic advisor to DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport) and a National Partner of Sport England. We work with national governing bodies of sport including the Football Association to increase participation at all levels by finding solutions to the barriers to sport participation.

1.3 Due to a lack of awareness, understanding and knowledge about discriminatory behaviour and racism the foundation for further work to address this issue lies within footballing bodies and clubs ensuring that they have appropriate policies, processes and practices in place.

1.4 Although the key focus of this inquiry is racism in football, it would be inappropriate to ignore the following:

Racism is not restricted to football, or indeed to premier league football clubs. Racism can be seen at all levels and throughout sport.

Any aggressive language and behaviour that draws upon any aspect of a person’s identity is unacceptable.

Emotions clearly run high in fast-paced competitive sport, such as football, but there needs to be an acknowledgement that using a person’s race, ethnicity or culture as a form of abuse is wrong.

2. The Problem and Key Issues/Challenges

2.1 We believe that the existence of a problem in football is not in question. The extent of the problem and recent changes to how that problem manifests is however a subject for debate.

2.2 Football has been plagued in the past by racism, notably in three forms:

on the pitch, between players, usually under the guise of “winding up the opposition”;

from the terraces, directed at members of the “opposing” team, ostensibly with a view to affecting their performance, but often with more sinister overtones; and

on the terraces, aimed at spectators from ethnic minority groups, which inevitably discouraged these spectators from attending matches.

2.3 Whilst there has been positive progress made in all these areas there is no room for complacency. We do not want to return to those days where racism was prevalent in all the above areas.

2.4 Sporting Equals insight and wider evidence also suggests the presence of the following issues and challenges:

the under-representation of people from BME communities in boardrooms and governance structures (inc. at a county level);

the under-representation of Asian players in the professional game and at club academies, and of all BME communities among referees;

the very small numbers of black players progressing in football management;

at clubs, a lack of diversity training for staff, few equal opportunities policies, and poor staff recruitment practices;

the relatively small numbers of spectators from BME communities at professional football matches; and

a tendency for disciplinary committees to be dissimilar in make-up from the players whose cases they deal with.

2.5 Our local intelligence tells us that experience of racism for BME groups is prevalent on local playing fields up and down the country.

2.6 This is not to say that the football sector does not want to address these issues but rather they do not necessarily know the best or most effective way to do this.

3. The Context

3.1 Racist behaviour does not happen in isolation; it is a result of prejudices and/or lack of awareness.

3.2 Sporting Equals Insight research identifies several significant barriers to BME communities starting and staying in sport that can be applicable to football:

One in five has suffered negative racist experiences while taking part in sport. (Sporting Equals 2008—Barriers for NGBs, CSPs and Local Authorities in engaging BME communities). Fear of racism is a particular barrier to women accessing sporting facilities (Leicester Racial Equality and Sport Project (2003) Briefing Papers—People from Black and Minority Ethnic Groups).

Negative attitudes and perceptions: Myths still prevail about the suitability of particular sports to people from particular ethnic backgrounds. For example, notions that black people cannot excel in swimming and asians are not strong enough for some sports eg football.

There is also a BME community football sector that operates outside the mainstream. A key feature of this sector are the tournaments and leagues (often referred to as shadow leagues) that reach out to at least 20,000 BME volunteers and players. Their development can largely be attributed to the perceived lack of support from affiliated leagues, racism and discrimination from the sporting community and dearth of visible role models involved in decision-making in football.

There is a general lack of meaningful engagement with BME groups due to a lack of insight, knowledge, understanding, know-how and confidence to work with them.

3.3 At county and local level there is a lack of awareness of guidance and support available to actively address existing or potential racist activity.

3.4 There is significant representation of BME groups in grassroots participation; however, this means it is even more important that measures are put in place to ensure that racism is not part of football at any level so that young players are not put off the sport as a result of failure to address such problems at grassroot level.

3.5 There is a lack of ownership of the responsibility to promote race equality or diversity by staff and volunteers due to a lack of understanding around the value and benefits of diversity (which is seen as an “add on” to their day job rather than an integral part of it).

3.6 The Sporting Equals report, Who’s on board? (2010) noted that of 39 governing bodies only one had a Chairperson from a BME background and of 375 board members, only seven were from BME background. We believe that there is a similar pattern at county level although the data is not so readily available. With such a lack of representation at the highest levels it is perhaps unsurprising that there is a lack of empathy with the need to ensure that diversity and cultural awareness are embedded within football.

3.7 Around 20% of professional footballers come from the black and ethnic minority (BME) communities, yet from the 1,300 or coaches who hold a UEFA B licence or higher, the number is only 4.8%. Sporting Equals’s insight demonstrates a strong interest in coaching from BME communities; however the current systems are causing challenges that slow down the process. Issues such as information, marketing, visibility of role models, career prospects are all having a negative impact on people’s perceptions of coaching and access is often limited through internal recruitment mechanisms and social networks which BME communities are often not part of.

4. The Solution/Recommendations

4.1 There is no single quick fix to tackle racism and racial discrimination in football. A combined effort from stakeholders is needed. The following details issues that we feel are key components of a wider strategy to tackle racism in football and prevent its resurgence.

4.2 Consultation and Approach. Ensuring that the football sector (eg associations, clubs etc) has systems that embed and mainstream equality and diversity in all aspects of its operations including dealing with cases of racism and racial discrimination is vital. This is important to address negative perceptions. To truly embed principles of diversity, all staff and volunteers from board to stewards (and including coaches and referees) should be briefed on the benefits of diversity. Consultation on racism, equality or related policies should engage staff and players at all levels.

4.3 Recognise the problem(s). Sanctions are important, but it is generally accepted that “prevention is better than cure”. By identifying the root cause of racism (be it past experiences, organisational culture, lack of knowledge or empathy) we will be able to make lasting, positive changes.

4.4 Reporting and monitoring. Whilst there may be systems in place for reporting and monitoring incidents of racism, they need to be promoted more widely in order to address any negative perceptions and increase peoples’ confidence to report incidents. Ensuring staff and volunteers (including security and stewards) are trained to deal appropriately with racist incidents is also important in this aspect.

4.5 Supporters. Activity that encourages diverse participation and audiences (ie spectators) should form a key part of any plan to reduce racism. For example, approaching community and faith groups directly to extend invitations to events and open days. This is vital in terms of changing peoples’ perceptions. This will impact on areas including marketing, recruitment, supporter programmes etc.

4.6 Legal duties. As employers and providers of services, football clubs and the organisations that encompass them, have a duty to ensure that their staff and customers are not subject to racial harassment or discrimination. For football though there needs to be an express commitment to protecting their players, staff, volunteers and fans from racist behaviour, this commitment should extend to other clubs in order to reduce the problem of opposing fans resorting to racist chanting and comments about other teams or their supporters.

4.6.1Legal duties at grassroots. With regards to clubs and matches that use public facilities, such as local playing fields or council-owned property, the authority that owns the property should make clear that they are bound by a specific duty under the Equality Act 2010 and that those using their facilities are bound by these duties. Where a racist incident occurs on such property the local authority (or public body concerned) must have the right, or indeed the duty, to take action to prevent any recurrence by banning individuals, or groups from using the land or property.

4.7 The business case. Beyond the legal and moral duty, if clubs do not address issues of racism among fans, they are cutting off potential markets for their fan base and potential commercial opportunities. This message should be made clear throughout the club from senior through middle managers and front line staff.

4.8 Referees. are also key when it comes to preventing and dealing with racism in football. As such they need to be supported to deal with racism when it occurs. This will include equipping them with techniques and know-how to identify racism.

4.9 Equality Audit. Each club should carry out an equality audit of key functions and policies to ensure that they promote inclusivity to make certain that the principles of equality and diversity are a golden thread woven throughout the processes and practices of a football organisation eg integrated into marketing and communications strategies and throughout the recruitment process (for all roles within Football) ensuring that adverts are placed and sustained within in publications and places other than mainstream media outlets. This work should also include reviewing existing monitoring information regarding ethnicity and religion (as well as gender, disability, age and sexuality etc) or the collection of this information. Alongside this audit publicising the business case to diversity to all staff and volunteers is crucial (para 4.8).

4.10 Encompass all key personnel. Focus needs to be on all levels of participation. Through the media we have only experienced premier league football players in the headlines, this does not mean that others working or participating in football do not either suffer from or participate in racist behaviour. All policies and procedures should be communicated throughout organisations and to those involved with the organisation (eg contractors, suppliers, talent scouts, agents etc).

4.11 Good practice. Capture and share good practice. There are many examples of good practice that all stakeholders need to be aware of to replicate. This is more than anti-racism activity, and is perhaps more about good practice relating to engaging BME communities at all levels. With football being the national game in England, it is important that the governing body (in particular at county level), Premier League and Football League are able to be seen as true role models for individuals, sport and society with examples of good practice in relation to equality and diversity and leading the way in fighting racism in football globally.

4.11.1Good Practice Example: Sporting Equals insight shows that cultural events and festivals are an effective way to not only bring different communities together but to also inspire communities to participate in sport. However, this without a long term and wider engagement strategy could be looked at as tokenistic.

4.12 Contingency Plan. Be prepared for things to go wrong—human error will still occur, especially in the heat of the moment. Develop contingency plans to act quickly when incidents occur to avoid long term negative impact. The possible consequences of not addressing issues early include risk to the perception of the football club within diverse and wider communities and potential damage to their brand. This is significant because it can re-enforce existing attitudes and a prevalent view that football is institutionalised, counteracting the significant role that football plays in developing communities that is too often unreported and not communicated widely by the media.

4.13 Agreed sanctions. Firm disciplinary measures should be in place in relation to offenders eg bans, fines and other sanctions. These need to be clear and transparent and applied in a consistent manner where racist language or behaviour is proven. Depending on the context and the immediate actions of those involved after an incident it can sometimes be appropriate to issue formal warnings regarding future behaviour rather than using harsher sanctions. Sanctions need to apply to all (eg players, staff, coaches, medical team etc) alike. Indeed, supporters also need to be aware, perhaps through supporters’ charters agreed with supporters’ organisations, of sanctions such as revoking season tickets and stadium bans if they commit racist offences (verbal or physical).

4.14 Role models. Use role models from all cultures, to promote the message that diversity is essential for success. We feel that the PFA have a key role to play here. This could include messages to fans, work within schools, youth football clubs etc. Media should be encouraged to consider carefully how they are portraying particular individuals and think carefully before using any cultural or national stereotyping (however lightly) in their coverage. Media should also be encouraged to cover the good as well as the bad in football.

5. Planned Work to Reduce Racism in Football and Build Good Relations

5.1 Clubs—We are currently finalising a model to support premier league football clubs to ensure their policies, processes and practices promote a more inclusive and welcoming environment that will embed principles of diversity throughout the organisation and will in the long run support commercial and marketing opportunities for the club. The model will include some of the recommendations above, such as equality audits, consultation, embedding principles at all levels, promoting and publicising positive change etc.

5.2 SE (Sporting Equals) Leaderboard—building on the information in the report Who’s on Board?, we are working with NGBs and other partners to help with recruitment and forward planning in relation to increasing diversity on the boards of national governing bodies and other sports organisations. We supported the FA to attract applications to vacant board positions very recently and are pleased to note that the FA confirmed their commitment in principle to this area of work in 2011.

5.3 Ethnic media—utilising bespoke media outlets needs to be a key consideration when trying to tackle and prevent racism. A large number of BME communities in the UK access ethnic media channels. A significant proportion of these communities will be first generation BME communities who will have experienced racism in relation to employment, sport and the criminal justice system. To mitigate passing on these negative experiences to future generations it is necessary to drip-feed positive messages about football and sport generally in order to change attitudes, perception and confidence to engage in football. It is also important to note that in some cases representations of certain groups in society by mass market media organisations often perpetuate or fuels stereotypes and negative associations.

There is a clear opportunity for football to use ethnic media to promote positive role models and the impact of the game at all levels from community to elite.

5.4 Get Up Get Moving—this project uses premier league footballers as role models to encourage school children and their families to get active and improve their health outcomes. This will link to positive social outcomes for the football clubs involved and can involve activity to reduce racism.

5.5 Awards—Sporting Equals is working with interested partners and sponsors to plan an event to recognise good practice and progress in promoting diversity in sport. This will enable clubs and the football and sport sector to learn from each other on what works to eradicate racism and promote equality of opportunity.

6. Conclusion

6.1 It is important that politicians and decision makers in football continue to take a firm public stand against racism in football. This should be a consistent and long term message.

6.2 Those responsible for the way football operates need to inform others working in football at all levels to recognise that there is no place for racism anywhere within the sport and that there is currently a problem to be addressed. If there is not recognition of racism as a problem, then more needs to be done to raise awareness before successful change can be implemented.

6.3 Policies and procedures that result from open consultation and audit will build a foundation for real change and achieve wider benefits for the sport.

6.4 Sporting Equals is committed to working with all committed and interested parties to ensure that football is a sport for all.

February 2012

Prepared 18th September 2012