According to Kick It Out, the primary organisation in the UK that works to tackle racism in professional and grassroots football, reports of discrimination rose by 32% in 2018/19 compared to the previous season. The head of the organization, Sanjay Bhandari pointed out that racism in football is worse than it was five years ago (CNN, 2020). An anti-discriminatory body ‘Fare’ released a report in 2016 which showed that 0.6% of senior governance positions were held by ethnic minorities across European football. Thus, it is evident that lack of diversity is present in the world of football on a very large basis. But what is the scenario of diversity in British football specifically?
Within the media, people are very quick to point the finger without looking at their own house.
Recently, Raheem Sterling, a Jamaica-English player, called out football’s failure to tackle the problem of shocking paucity of members of the black community at managerial and boardroom level in British football. Amongst the Black Lives Movement gaining momentum all over the world, this issue has come to light once again.
Andy Gowling, 36, who has recently been appointed as the Herefordshire manager, is one of only seven non-white managers in English football’s top six tiers. He admitted that while there is greater diversity seen in teams with one in three players being of BAME descent; the case is not so similar at all in coaching numbers.
Former Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany has pointed the finger on the failure to clean-up racism as the real cause of the issue of diversity in coaching staff. There are lots of other issues that can be highlighted such as racist and homophobic chants, lack of funding for women’s football, and only 6% of the FA council being female.
There is no doubt that football has developed a lot since the 1970s and things are looking a lot better than it was then when it comes to racism but during the last few years, the ride to eliminate racism has been pretty downhill.
Outside of football, things are a lot worse. According to the UK government statistics, in 2018/19, there were 103,379 offences in England and Wales “where one or more of the central monitored hate crime strands were deemed to be a motivating factor”.
The reason for things getting worse and worse could be Brexit but the main point here is that sport plays a huge factor in eradicating racism at the societal level and it is also a reflection of the society. Thus, football and society go hand-in-hand. If diversity can’t be ensured in sports, it will always remain a huge problem in other professions and in society as well.
Jamie Cleland and Ellis Cashmore talk about “colour-blind ideology” that has emerged in the last decade in British football which is a more covert means of promoting racism. This ideology allows racism to exist in football in a nuanced and subtle manner which ‘goes under the radar of football authorities and beyond the capacities of anti-racist groups’ (2013). The latest example of how this works can be seen in the comments made by Dave Whelan, former owner of Wigan Athletic made these comments in 2011:
“I think we should forget colour and…you know, it doesn’t bother anybody. Sometimes a footballer, when they’re playing at such a level, with the stress there is…if they call somebody white, if they call somebody black, you’ve just got to get on with it…You know, I think the players who come and complain, sometimes they are a little bit out of order.”
Efforts need to be undertaken in order to deal with racism on both levels.
Raj Athwal, a commercial football expert says that the debate on racism is healthy but it can prove to be counter-productive if nothing is done and no measurements are taken against racism. This makes a lot of sense. It’s been so many years since we have been talking about racism in sports but there is hardly any improvement visible. Time has come to do something about the issue, rather than sitting idly.
One way could be severe punishment from the governing bodies towards any fan, player, or club that plays a part in racial discrimination. This would seem to enable zero tolerance for racism but in reality, it’s pretty hard to ban every fan who is chanting racist slogans. There is also a need to tackle this problem more individually. Engaging with fan groups, spreading awareness, and educating the fans and supporters can be a more individualistic and effective way.
The combination of both of these ways listed above can be a useful tool in eradicating racism. When it comes to diversity in managerial jobs, football clubs and governing bodies need to be more transparent about their vacancies and job roles. These should be listed online where anyone could apply and individual feedbacks should be given to applicants to tell them why exactly they weren’t shortlisted or hired without any reference to race, ethnicity, or gender. This will engender transparency and inclusivity in the world of football.