Fans For Diversity Journalists
Aspiring journalists Bobby Gardiner and Isra Gabal joined Fans for Diversity in May 2015 to detail the upcoming year for Kick It Out and the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF), after winning a journalism competition run by the campaign.
Following an intensive interview stage, Bobby and Isra were chosen to join ‘Fans for Diversity’ on a 12-month freelance contract which will see both winners write pieces exclusively for Kick It Out and the FSF.
The duo will will write opinion-related pieces based on aspects of equality and inclusion in football across all levels. This page will be updated with the latest pieces from the Fans For Diversity journalists.
Disclaimer: The articles produced by the Fans For Diversity journalists are based on the writer’s opinion and do not reflect those of Kick It Out or the Football Supporters’ Federation
Bobby Gardiner - Raise Your Game
Britain is racist, and football is no different. But where once that might have been genuine person-level animosity spiralling to the top with societal bigotry consciously prejudicing, our problem now is implicit systemic bias.
Traditional racism is not extinct, of course; but take a random employer and they are unlikely to be consciously prejudiced. In plain terms, the reason British journalism is 94% white is probably not because those with hiring power are trying to make it that way.
But take an industry, like journalism, or football, and it is easy to see how means that aren’t innately racist or sexist can have ends that are. It starts with recruitment. Take my position as an aspiring journalist, walking around work experience at the Telegraph, one of the largest open plan offices in the country, not managing to find a single person of colour like me.
Work experience programs last less than a week, are unpaid and normally earned by knowing someone. Internships are rarely advertised, graduate positions are scarce. If an industry is traditionally run by a ‘who you know’ mantra, and 94% of people are white with colleagues that are also 94% white, who do you think disproportionately benefits from that? If experience programs are unpaid, and income inequality is lopsided by ethnicity, who do you think that costs?
This is systemic bias. It is the self-perpetuation of an industry too complacent to look in a mirror. And football is no different, though the mechanisms may be different depending on which subsection you look at. Scouts have been shown to have bias in their picks, and the Guardian reported in 2012 that ‘one father was told by a scout that he was expressly told not to scout Asian players’. Why? Because in scouting a player you hypothesise what they can become, and what Adnan Januzaj projects to be is grounded in our evidence more often than a role-model-less Adil Nabi.
The solution presented is often about the necessity of a break-through. In an entertaining media workshop at Kick It Out’s Raise Your Game conference, Clive Tyldesley hypothesised that female broadcasting needs a major star to appeal to even the most prejudiced of masses. And yet these are, by definition, exceptions. If I give you a dice, and tell you that you need to figure out how to get as many ones as possible, would it make sense to say that you would wait to roll a one and see what happens after?No, you would have to find another way to put the odds in your favour.
The Raise Your Game event is a successful attempt to do exactly that, to scratch out the six so that you roll your target 20% of the time. Mentees, aspiring to work somewhere in football, are paired up with a number of mentors in industries they might like to go into, and in a speed dating format are allowed to ask any questions and ‘network’. By providing a direct link between the aspiring and the experienced, the ‘who you know’ dynamic, one significant problem, can be used for good.
The success stories are plentiful, and everyone I spoke to was genuinely grateful for the opportunity provided to them by Kick It Out and the enthusiastic mentors. I wholeheartedly recommend the event for anyone interested in working in football, from coaches to journalists. Do your research, figure out what you want to learn, and go. If you are already in the industry, be a mentor; do your part to make sure it is less biased for the next generation.
And if you have any recruitment power, throw the dice out. Make recruitment blind of gender or race, hire interns and pay them, ban nepotistic work experience. Model your reform on finance or law, where progressive recruitment programs do more than create exceptions. If you don’t have any recruitment departments, ask your relevant superiors why it isn’t being done. It’s not that hard, it just takes some collective consciousness.
“Everyone remembers England’s first black footballer. How many black players are in the England squad now? Who cares, we’ve stopped counting.” remarked Clive Tyldesley. We have to count before we can forget to.
Isra Gabal - Sunderland Pave Way In Sensory Access
Most of us have felt it, the match day buzz that the large crowds, bellowing noise created by thousands of fans and blinding lights cause. But before his parents took a stand, the experience for eight-year-old Nathan Shippey didn’t leave him dizzy with excitement, but rather distressed and fearful.
Nathan, who is on the autistic spectrum, had been following Sunderland from a young age, but unfortunately due to his struggles with the loud atmosphere had to stop attending matches.
Thankfully, the love of his parents meant that they weren’t going to stand idly by while their son missed out on one of the simplest joys in life, the beautiful game.
Peter Shippey, Nathan’s father and life-long Sunderland supporter, chose not to let things go so easily.
Through his and wife Kate’s sheer tenacity and dedication, they’ve ensured their son can enjoy football matches like any other supporter by getting a sensory room approved and created at the Stadium Of Light, with fans like him in mind.
And the cherry on top of that accomplishment? It’s named after their delightful son.
Peter and Kate Shippey are undoubtedly pioneering the way for disabled fan inclusion, saying the room has changed their lives, and they hope it’ll change the lives of other families dealing with similar problems who would never have considered attending a match in the past.
Parents to three boys who live with autism, Peter and Kate were suddenly facing issues they had never considered before. Peter said: “Before bringing Nathan to matches, to tell you the truth we weren’t aware of the problems a lot of autistic fans face, such as the noise levels and the atmosphere being too much for them to handle.
“These problems were things that were brought to us, not something we actively went looking for, and then we decided to do something about them instead of accepting things the way they were.”
The Shippey’s tried many alternatives so that they could change their son’s experience, and even bought two season tickets to the Black Cats bar, but unfortunately it was obvious ten minutes into their first game there that the noise was still too much to handle for Nathan, so again, they had to leave.
When that didn’t work, Peter started thinking there must be another way, so he contacted Chris Waters, the club’s Supporters Liaison Officer (SLO), and started “throwing ideas around.”
“The club got onboard with our ideas straight away,” Peter said. “Helping us develop them so that the room worked in the best way it could after it was built.
“I’m extremely proud that Sunderland are the club that have brought the dream to reality, when it was something that seemed so out of reach in the past.
“We couldn’t thank Chris Waters and Margaret Byrne enough for how incredibly involved and accommodating they have been.”
Chris Waters said: “The main objective of my job is to improve the match day experience for supporters at the Stadium of Light, so as soon as Peter got in contact to tell me of Nathan’s experience it was obvious that we needed to find a solution to help him enjoy the matches live, rather than on TV as he had been.
“The fans we’ve had in the Nathan Shippey Sensory Room this season have all given us amazing feedback so far, which is key as its telling us how incredibly important it is to actually have facilities like this in the stadium and in turn it sets up for thinking about other similar projects for fans facing difficulties.
“The reception of the room has been overwhelming and the demand has meant it’s full till March, which we’re very pleased about.
“The room has proven a valuable introduction to the stadium that will only add positive notes to the way fans with sensory issues, and hopefully fans with any type of disability, are treated.”
The room, which has been full all season, has been a screaming success, with fans travelling from all over the country to enjoy matches in a safe and comfortable environment. Peter added; “It’s a shame Sunderland gets judged for their performance on the pitch when they’re doing much greater, groundbreaking, things off the pitch that just don’t get as much attention.”
Peter and Kate are now pushing for an identical room built in mirror image across the other side of the stadium. Peter estimates this would cost £1m. “If you think about how much money is in football nowadays, you’re not really asking for a lot,” Peter said.
Seeing the room in action and how something as simple as a soundproof enclosed space, with various sensory calming tools and a pair of ear defenders works, you can’t help but wonder why this hasn’t been implemented by clubs before.
The concept behind the room isn’t revolutionary, and the objects inside aren’t technological advances (a lava lamp and a picture exchange communication system), so it’s a wonder why fans with disabilities haven’t had their needs met before now.
The Accessible Stadia Guide, which The Premier League, the Football Association and Level Playing Field, all contributed to sets out minimum standards all new grounds have to meet in terms of the provision, location and quality of facilities for disabled fans.
Speaking to Joyce Cook OBE, chair of Level Playing Field, she believes the main reason it’s taken this long for a sensory room to be created is down to lack of awareness, as is often the case, and rates the football industry’s treatment of disabled fans a five out of 10, stating all clubs must try harder.
“It’s great to see Sunderland taking the lead in installing the first match day sensory room,” Joyce said. “It has made a massive difference to Nathan and his family and to other local disabled fans.
“Peter and Kate Shippey have been true champions in this respect.
“Of course, there has been progress in the last 10 years and I wouldn’t want to detract from the clubs that have been working hard to improve the situation for their disabled fans, however, there is still a great deal to be done to ensure disabled fans are truly welcome at stadiums across the UK, as recent reports have shown.
“On that basis, we welcomed the Premier League’s announcement last year. This pledge is a dramatic step forward, it’s certainly long overdue, and we do need to keep our eyes on the ball.
“As always, the proof will be in the pudding and we’ll all be watching closely. It will certainly be a great day for football fans and for their clubs when it finally happens, but we’ve got to get there first.”
Last year the Premier League pledged that all Premier League clubs will meet minimum Accessible Stadia standards for disabled spectators by August 2017.
Joyce also pointed out that other fans are always very supportive and sympathetic of the issues faced by many disabled fans, therefore now more than ever, they need to show their support.
Her message to those fans is: “Please keeping asking the difficult questions and please keep reminding your clubs how important your disabled fans are to your fan base.
“We need to keep this topic at the top of the agenda – it’s the only way we are finally going to get the job done.”
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 & 2005, states that it is unlawful for a service provider (such as a football club) to discriminate against a disabled person by “Failing, without justification, to take reasonable steps to prevent it being impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to use the service (failing to make a reasonable adjustment).”
Therefore, it is reasonable to state that clubs who are failing to provide suitable areas for fans with any sort of disability to view games in are, in fact, acting unlawfully.
Having been recently made aware of some incidents where disabled supporters have been offered a seat at ground level, only for their view to be disturbed by television cameras and crews, we asked Joyce what provision, in her professional opinion, should be put in place for live games or stadiums in general.
She said: “There may be other fans at a match with a partially obstructed view, especially at pitch side. But they usually have a choice and can stand, sit elsewhere if they wish or can move around within their seat. For many disabled fans, that’s just not possible and to make it worse, there is often absolutely no other choice.
“We often get such complaints at Level Playing Field, as well as complaints from disabled fans who follow their team away, only to be placed with the home fans, which is, as any football fan can tell you, a truly miserable experience.
“Those disabled fans are often asked to hide their team colours and are even asked not to celebrate goals – an impossible request of any passionate and loyal fan.
“There is no excuse, the standards are very clear. Disabled fans should be given a choice of locations around the ground and they must be able to sit with their own fans at football matches. There is nothing worse than staring at a camera crew or another fan’s back for 90 minutes and then rushing home to catch the highlights on TV or being told to stay quiet in an environment that thrives on a loud atmosphere.”
Joyce wanted to add: “Many congratulations to the Shippeys, Sunderland and all involved.
“You have paved the way for better things and I believe that other clubs are now looking to follow suit, which is great news.”
What’s next for the Shippeys? Well if creating history wasn’t enough, Peter and Kate have set up The Shippey Campaign to promote the concept throughout the Premier League and are in talks with football stadiums across the country, including Murrayfield and Wembley, and even attended the Stade De France in December to shed light on the issues facing disabled fans.
With Manchester United potentially setting up a similar room for fans with sensory issues, it seems disabled fans can beathe a sigh of relief, for they’ve finally found their heroes.
The Nathan Shippey Sensory room is located in the Black Cats Bar at the Stadium Of Light and tickets are subject to availability. If you are interested in using this sensory room this season please contact Chris Waters, SLO, at email@example.com, for further information.
Bobby Gardiner - Refugees Welcome, The Debate That Never Was
By the time Alan Kurdi washed up on the guilt laden sands of Kos, British football had already begun its initial rallies of refugee support. Weeks before our media was possessed by an ultimately fickle grip of empathy, Kingstonian fans had been one of the first in Europe to raise a ‘Refugees Welcome’ banner a while FC United and Clapton had pioneered similarly early support.
But where it might be expected that the galvanizing thunderbolt that was the mass circulation of that picture would inspire support for a pro-refugee movement throughout the country’s game, this was hardly the case. Where a roar of support rose in other parts of Europe, particularly Germany, British football threw back a timid shrug.
This shrug was one shared from top to bottom; a group of Arsenal fans made a supportive banner of their own, only for it to now be allowed into the stadium for “security reasons”, while other Premier League clubs – attempting to remain apolitical – were notably silent. Supporter group voices were dampened, but where in political debate that may be because of disagreement or conflicting consensus, here it was another reminder that a Premier League club’s primary purpose is its own vested interests.
As well as pledging money to charitable causes and hosting refugee days, German football moved quickly to spread guidelines on the assimilation of refugees into football clubs. Fourth division side Kickers Offenbach set up development camps to improve the chances of refugees being picked up by clubs. Although not a part of the recent influx of Syrians, Borussia Mönchengladbach’s midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud is a burgeoning beacon of hope.
The dramatic contrast with Germany, at least in part, is a consequence of differing ownership models. A ‘50+1’ system positions fans at the epicentre of a club rather than its periphery, and in its decision making process rather than a callous afterthought. As a BBC article comparing the two systems asserts: “if you ask fans outside a Bayern game who owns the club, they are incredulous: “The members, of course”, they say.”
The closest our game comes to anything like the German system is non-league, and it is here that the majority of public outpours of support took place. As the upper echelons of British football’s were intent to be that one person who gets away with saying nothing in a seminar became increasingly transparent, the exceptions were to be found at clubs like Clapton, who offered free entry to the refugee community.
At its ‘Non League Day’ in October, Kick It Out worked with the anti-racism project ‘Football Unites, Racism Divides’ and the world’s first football club, Sheffield FC, inviting refugees to take part in the day’s events. It’s not that the desire to express and incite support doesn’t exist at micro level, it’s more that football’s biggest clubs and league have turned a blind eye to it.
A blind eye met by another, and another, in a nation’s bizarre decision to reject the debate that it chose to harbour the day that horrific image covered its newspapers.
Isra Gabal - Women's World Cup
For those who scoffed at the thought of a Women’s World Cup, I hope you ate your words after the Lionesses did the country extremely proud in Canada during this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Yes we might have came third thanks to an unfortunate own goal, but wasn’t it tremendous that we even made it that far?
With hardly any expectations of progression from the nation at the beginning of the World Cup, one of the only aims for the team was to stir passion in a similar way to the London 2012 Olympics and to get more women and girls involved in playing football.
The welcome home the team got after their early-morning arrival at Heathrow Airport on 6 July shows us that, in the short-term at least, their aim has been achieved.
However, anyone with an active Twitter account would be able to tell you that among the excited and avid supporters, the sexist commentators were lurking around every corner.
Although this Women’s World Cup gained arguably the most amount of coverage out of any previous tournament, the reality of those tweets is what leads me to my disappointing verdict – I do believe the Women’s World Cup has sparked more interest in women’s football, but unfortunately, it’s not an interest that’ll last.
Call me cynical (although I’d rather you called me realistic), but my view stems from the fact people who were tweeting in support of the women’s team were doing so in a derogatory manner. Many saw the women’s success as a chance to mock the male team, “even women are doing better than you – you lot must be AWFUL” and many saw it as completely fine to tweet “supportive” things in a discriminatory manner.
Granted, it wasn’t absolutely everyone who pushed the boundaries of decency and taste like that but even the few that did indicated that women’s football in England still isn’t taken seriously. Our amazing team was pegged as doing well “for a bunch of women”, rather than people recognising they’re doing well as a group of hardworking and committed athletes.
When was the last time you read a serious match report that mentioned a male player being “easy on the eyes”? I read at least three during the World Cup that mentioned the players’ looks along side their performance, as if to suggest you should watch the World Cup to catch sight of beautiful women, rather than to watch an enthralling game of football.
A credible sports journalist wouldn’t in their wildest dreams reference a woman’s looks during match reporting because they realise that the individual’s skill on the pitch has no correlation with how good-looking they are. Unfortunately when it’s the Women’s World Cup that piece of common sense seems to go out of the window.
Irresponsible journalism, like that published on Saturday 27 June in the Daily Mirror, is paving the way for the next wave of sexists who think being a woman makes you worth less. Those journalist’s own daughters, nieces and loved ones will have to deal with further sexism because their generation brought up young males to think it’s hilarious and acceptable to belittle women and to play down their accomplishments.
Journalists, and news outlets alike, have a responsibility to promote women’s football in a positive manner, in a bid to push it to the forefront of society’s consciousness and to start the conversation about equality and inclusivity.
As Moya Dodd, FIFA Executive Committee co-opted member and chair of the Task Force for Women’s Football, put it: “Football does not exist in a vacuum. Our experiences in football mirror our experiences in the world. And we live in a world where women are systemically disadvantaged.”
Therefore I sadly don’t believe women’s football will gain the respect it deserves until society as a whole address the issue of inequality towards women.
I’d like this article to serve as a gentle reminder that using misogynistic and degrading terms in a bid to seem funny leaves you looking anything but. What our female players did out there in Canada deserves the utmost respect.
So the next time you would like to question a woman’s ability to play football, ask yourself could you have played as fearlessly and as passionately as our glorious national team?
Bobby Gardiner - My Time At The FSF Summit
“Football, really, is just a reflection of society” said Anwar Uddin to me during the ‘Pride in Football’ workshop at the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) Summit.
And nowhere was this truer than at this particular event; two-pronged in its intention to both highlight problems within ‘the game’ and celebrate the ongoing successes of supporter movements. An annual gathering that, in effect, is the footballing equivalent of Mulan’s lake scene.
The first thing any existentially contemplating fan can see in the game is inequality and, more broadly, unfairness. This is a sport ruled by a governing body swiftly becoming a textbook synonym for the word ‘corrupt’, one whose next two World Cups are in countries with a humanitarian record worse than England in penalty shoot-outs.
This is a sport where homophobic language is used commonly, race issues are still prevalent and one heavily weighted towards the interests of one gender. In a financial sense, few sports echo the political victories of neo-liberalism and the relentless prioritising of wealth accumulation quite like football does.
But, despite the garish ugliness of its honest lake reflection, this is a game that is changing, and that is exactly why this event exists.
Its opening panel focused on the global problem of FIFA. General mention of FIFA is met by the sort of scathing, illogical apathy that can only be rivalled by bringing up politicians to someone British: scathing in the widespread recognition of its corruption, illogical in the similarly widespread belief that nothing can be done about it.
FIFA can be forced to change, and sports ethics campaigner Jaimie Fuller championed the need for an independent commission to do this. On the topic of Qatar and Russia, Stephen Russell emphasised that there is still a chance for the disaster to be turned into a delivery of impetus for improvement.
To simply take the competitions away would forego the chance to institute humanitarian change, for example on labour rights in Qatar.
“Most of them don’t care, they know fans will come anyway” was one of the more depressing notes of the ‘Away Fans Matter’ workshop I attended. By creating an empirical database of away fan experiences, the FSF aims to create leverage with which to improve the plight of the often ignored away fan. Much like reforming FIFA, the battle will be a long one.
It’s hard to convince clubs that action is needed when no revenue is lost either way. The biggest clubs, who know away fans will buy the full allocation regardless, regularly ranked lowest when it came to surveys of away supporters’ experiences. But the FSF are trying nonetheless, gradually arming themselves with the power of more and more away fans. Like in that which it reflects, corporate football’s greatest weakness is collective bargaining.
The aforementioned ‘Pride in Football’ workshop was wonderfully optimistic, with the group-task of idealising a football utopia forcing the symmetry between society and football from a peripheral parallel into the forefront of discussion. “What would a perfectly equal and inclusive football match look like?” asked Chris Paouros. Maybe it would look like what we imagine football matches look like.
It’s easy to do nothing. That scathing, illogical apathy is captivatingly contagious and it’s easy to say that the people uninfected, the ones ‘doing something’, are ‘better than us’; conveniently brushing away our own responsibilities. But the game is as much yours, or mine, as it is anyone else’s.
Behind the garish ugliness in the lake reflection is me in a Swansea kit – I, Bobby Gardiner, a football fan. I can do something. Whether it’s calmly explaining to a friend why not to use discriminatory terms, writing a letter to one of FIFA’s sponsors or filling out an away fans’ survey, I can do something. That’s what the annual Football Supporters’ Federation Summit is all about.