Fans For Diversity journalist reflects on Kick It Out's successful fundraising evening
Fans For Diversity journalist Bobby Gardiner reflects on Kick It Out’s fundraising evening, held on 18 February at Stamford Bridge, home of current Premier League champions Chelsea FC.
“I’m where I am because of Kick It Out”, said the person sat to my left at the organisation’s fundraising evening, which I had graciously been invited to cover. This wasn’t the story of someone working within the game itself; my neighbour was working in football journalism at a major newspaper.
It struck me quite how far the organisation’s influence spanned, and how enthused people genuinely were about its ongoing mission to promote equality and inclusion within football.
If I’m honest, as a youngster, my greatest exposure to the ‘Kick It Out’ logo was when you boot up Football Manager – there, in the periphery, like a reminder to wash your hands in the toilet or not to smoke in a hospital. It is easy to assume that championing diversity in football is a battle already won; our domestic game is one largely devoid of the overt racism and prejudice that once plagued it.
But it’s striking how wrong this commonly-held viewpoint is. It is the equivalent of squirming at the mention of ‘feminism’ because of the leaps and bounds made in pursuit of gender equality. In a country whose racial and cultural identity has become increasingly diverse, its favourite game is still predominantly white and male, from coverage, to support, to the game itself.
As Lord Ouseley, Kick It Out’s Chair, put it on the night: “If the mantra is still ‘we are all in this together’ and the goal is a fairer and more socially cohesive society, then we need to see more concerted action from all decision makers, strong moral and political leadership from those in powerful positions, and more education investment in our next generation of young people from all backgrounds.”
In this, the organisation’s work is as much a reflection of societal issues as it is of football. Just as rising levels of immigration and Islamophobia have led to the increasing alienation of a major demographic, this tension is felt within the game. In his speech, Lord Ouseley was keen to point out the lack of Muslim representation within the game. Chuka Umunna, too, referred to rising levels of Islamophobic violence in London. These are issues that will become increasingly prevalent the longer they aren’t tackled.
The overwhelming support for defeating such issues is also easily forgotten. A good five minutes could be wasted scrolling through the names of attendees: representatives attended from almost all Premier League clubs and past players showed support alongside a number of media representatives.
The evening was as much about celebrating achievements as it was fortifying the necessity for continued action. Towards the back of the dinner programme, David Cameron had extended his support: “I am a great admirer of the Kick It Out campaign and believe it has been incredibly influential in promoting equality and diversity at all levels of football in the UK.”
At a micro level, it is easy to see what the organisation does as simply that – ‘promoting equality and diversity at all levels of football in the UK’. But in reality, that last qualifier is probably unnecessary.
No child will experience Kick It Out’s education programme at their school and then separate the lessons learned exclusively into ‘football’ and the ‘rest of their life’: “Hey, you can play football with us, but don’t think I won’t still be patronising towards your culture at lunch”.
In the end, what is cultural change? Does a society spontaneously, as a collective, decide that something is wrong? Not really. The aggregated shifts that we’d like to see, be it curbing Islamophobia, or improving the assimilation of immigrants into our society, are changes that inevitably have to start at micro level.
And so my declaration of support for Kick It Out is an abbreviated version of the Prime Minister’s statement; I am a great admirer of the organisation, and believe it has been incredibly influential in promoting equality and diversity in the UK. Long may it continue.