“Male, pale and stale”.
This was how an FA insider described the view of the top of the Football Association earlier this week.
Their assertion is correct. If you ask members of the general public walking down high streets in the towns and villages of England what they think of when they think of the FA, their responses will predominantly include: the England football team (men’s), the FA Cup, and old men in grey double-breasted suits.
Inclusion and Diversity at the FA
Unfortunately for the FA, this stereotype hinders all of the positive work they have done in the past few years to increase the level of inclusion and diversity in our national game.
A shocking fact is that until 1993, the FA didn’t officially recognise women’s football. Since the FA started keeping records in 1993, statistics have shown participation in organised leagues and competitions has increased from 10,400 in 1993 to 147,000 in 2014/15. Roughly 1.1 million women and girls play informal ‘kickabout’ football.
25th April marks the start of the first of two weeks of this year’s FA Girls’ Football Week. There have so far been over 22,000 applications, a 7,000 increase on the15,000 participants from 2015.
FA national participation manager, Donna McIvor told the FA’s website: “It’s great news that we have exceeded our target already and the week looks set to be a fantastic showcase for girls’ and women’s football participation. This is testament to the work that we and our partners have put in to raising awareness of the weeks, its aims and to the staff working at schools, clubs and community groups across the country that will help make the week a big success”.
However, it is not just the women’s game where the FA is making a concerted effort to change historical attitudes.
2011 was a landmark year due to race rows involving John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, and Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez. The incidents brought racism back to the forefront of public consciousness. It again raised the issue of racism in football.
After a police investigation Terry was found not guilty in court of racial abusing Ferdinand, but was found guilty and subsequently banned and fined by the FA.
The Suarez case was more pertinent as Liverpool, then Suarez’s employers, defended their player despite the significant video evidence to the contrary. After he was found guilty of racially abusing Evra, Liverpool released a statement saying:
“It is also our opinion that the accusation by this particular player [Evra] was not credible – certainly no more credible than his [Evra’s] prior unfounded accusations.
“He [Suarez] has played with black players and mixed with their families whilst with the Uruguay national side and was captain at Ajax Amsterdam of a team with a proud multi-cultural profile, many of whom became good friends. It seems incredible to us that a player of mixed heritage should be accused and found guilty in the way he has based on the evidence presented.
“It appears to us that the FA were determined to bring charges against Luis Suarez, even before interviewing him…”
The reaction of the club to Suarez’s eight game ban was widely condemned by football fans who felt that whilst Liverpool should have backed their player in private if they felt he was not guilty, their public statement should have been more contrite towards Evra, especially as all he did was stand on a football pitch and be racially abused by an opponent.
FA Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Plan
The Suarez-Evra affair prompted the FA—in conjunction with other organisations—to come together to create the Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Plan. This set about a clear framework for tackling inclusion and diversity issues across the game, from the Premier League and Professional Footballers Association (PFA) to grass roots football through County Football Associations. This plan was originally set to run from 2013 to 2017, but will be extended.
The plan is centered on four pillars; 1: to widen football’s talent pool, 2: to clarify anti-discrimination regulations and sanctions, 3: to instill confidence in reporting discrimination, 4: to increase knowledge and awareness.
In the detail are targets for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups’ participation in coaching across all levels and details on mandatory education sessions given to players found guilty of breaches. A high-profile example of this is Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy, who had a one to one session with an FA Education Officer following an incident with a Japanese customer at a casino in August 2015.
These wide-ranging plans and targets are positive ways in which the FA is moving forward.
An FA source told LWOS: “Is there more we can do? Of course. Of the 3000 professionals in the 92 league clubs, only six are of Asian descent. Given that the biggest participation group in ‘kickabout football’ are young Asian males, you have to ask what stop them from taking the path from the playground to the professional game?
“If I’m a white dad, wanting my son or daughter to play football I know where to take them. You go to your local club or professional club and get them into football. If I’m a first or second generation Asian father in England, do I know how to get my child into sports? The traditional social places for children in Asian communities are not football clubs, so to change this culture we need to open the access points in Asian communities.
“We need to get coaches involved and kids need role models. Amir Kahn [sic] was the stand-out role model for young British Asian males, and has done wonders for participation in Boxing in these communities.”
For all the great work done by the Equality and Diversity team at the FA, the way other parts of the FA handle news stories—such as ex-referee David Elleray only receiving a ‘slap on the wrist’ in 2014—need reforming.
Despite being the Chairman of the Referee’s Committee, Elleray had allegedly been heard to say “you looked rather tanned” and “have you been down a coal mine?” when speaking to a black non-league referee coaching manager, Robert McCarthy. That Elleray is still in his role two years later damages the reputation of the FA in the eyes of the public and threatens to overshadow their diversity and inclusion projects.
Mr Elleray subsequently apologised for his remarks and the FA released the following statement:
“Based on the particular facts of this matter the following sanction has been imposed: (i) Mr Elleray has been formally reminded of the importance of the Code, his duties as a Council Member and his responsibilities pursuant to the Code; and (ii) Mr Elleray is required to undertake equality and diversity training.”
Lord Ouseley, chair of Kick It Out , was disappointed with the findings.
“With David Elleray, there’s been very little information and only a slap on the wrists. If he was guilty of discrimination he should stand down. You can’t have highly intelligent people in responsible positions going on training courses.”
‘Male, Pale and Stale’ the FA may have been in the past, but good work is going on to change that image. They just need to shout more loudly and more often about the good things they do and not let old school process and tradition get in the way of serious reform.