Lord Herman Ouseley speech as Kick It Out looks ahead to its 25-year anniversary season
Kick It Out, football’s equality and inclusion organisation, is set to recognise its 25-year anniversary during 2018/19 with a series of events, initiatives and campaigns that will assess the progress made by all of football during this period, as well as setting the equality agenda for the next 25 years.
On Monday 21 May 2018, Kick It Out hosted an evening reception at Wembley Stadium with The Football Association, in partnership with The Voice Newspaper, which offered a preview of the year to come as Kick It Out marks 25 years of campaigning for equality in football.
After the launch of a special 25-year anniversary Kick It Out logo and the #KickItOut25 hashtag, Lord Herman Ouseley, Kick It Out’s Chair, delivered a speech to guests.
On 12 August 1993, the campaign to “let’s kick racism out of football” was launched.
It was needed then as it still is today in 2018.
25 years ago, overt racist abuse, harassment and violence infected football. Black and Asian players faced discrimination, prejudice, bias and abuse from not only fans, but within the dressing rooms, on the training grounds and from the coaching and management staff. Black and Asian players were forced to accept the status quo, to overcome the odds and not challenge the unacceptable if they wanted to stay in the game and to achieve successful careers. That situation was the reality at all levels of the game. The football authorities and most football clubs, buried their heads in the sand and hoped that the problem would go away without intervention.
25 years on, there is ethnic diversity reflected on the fields of play for all to see, more women are playing the game, disabled people are getting more opportunities to be part of the game and there is a recognition that the pursuit of equality, inclusion and cohesion is beneficial to the sport of football and wider society.
Today, Black and Asian professional players experience less abuse than in previous years but it is still more prevalent at grassroots level. However, they are much more confident to report incidents and to challenge unacceptable behaviour and The FA is much more resolute in applying disciplinary sanctions wherever appropriate. However, whilst the visibility of on-field progress is evident, there is less to applaud when it comes to equality of access to opportunities in other spheres of the game.
During the season 2018/19, it is planned that football, from grassroots through to elite level, should reflect on what it has done in pursuit of equality, inclusion and cohesion over the previous 25 years; what it is currently doing and what is still has to do. Undoubtedly, there will be achievements to highlight and commitments to do better in future.
Kick It Out has been and continues to be pivotal to the processes of change, challenging all forms of discrimination and exclusion, encouraging progressive developments to open up opportunities for people from all backgrounds to those which have historically been foreclosed to them, such as in the boardrooms, coaching, administration, management and other technical positions. Our education and mentoring programmes help to facilitate change in preparing the next generation to take up opportunities when available. These programmes help individuals to challenge bias and prejudice and are vital in supporting the change to positive and tolerant attitudes and conduct among players, officials and fans.
Whilst Kick It Out has been a catalyst for change, the positive developments in football must be attributed to those who are making it happen. The many progressive fans, some of whom were campaigning courageously for change to tackle racism in football long before Kick It Out appeared on the scene; The FA, the Premier League and English Football League, many others in the lower leagues and at grassroots.
And above all, the players, without whom there would be no game. Without Kick It Out, there might not have been the progress made. Without enterprising influential individuals there would have been no Kick It Out. In particular at the beginning, Gordon Taylor and the PFA have been at the forefront of supporting the ideals of equality, inclusion, and cohesion- not only for his members, who were the victims of relentless discrimination but for the game as a whole. The PFA has been staunch Kick It Out partner and still are. Without the support of David Dein at the beginning of the Premier League and David Davies at The FA in 1993 the campaign may have floundered into early oblivion, such was the reluctance of those with power to face up to the challenge of dealing with racism, sexism and homophobia in football. Other significant contributors from day one included key former players such as Paul Elliott, who has been there from day one and Garth Crooks, a veteran in the struggle for equality in the sporting arena.
25 years of campaigning for equality in football has highlighted the role of leadership and their influential decision making in the game. When tackling institutional inertia, it is critical to challenge timid irresponsible leadership on issues such as equality and exclusion. It remains a truism that if the powerful decision-makers in the game want to end exclusion, inequality and divisiveness in the game they can make it happen. That is a reality and is a simple but straightforward explanation about why progress has been so tediously slow.
In highlighting some of the negative, it is also another reality that over recent years, football must be praised for all the positive and progressive work being done to bring about greater community and social cohesion through their foundations and charities. Bringing young people from all backgrounds to play the game and to learn with and from each other, about each other, is a substantial contribution to building cohesion for the next generation. Football is leading the way and can be proud of what it is doing. The importance and value of this contribution has to be put in the context of continuing bias, prejudice and hate-related activity across society. Examples include Government promoting a “hostile environment” for migrants (including those who have lived here as British subjects since the 1950s), an upsurge in antisemitism, extreme racist fringe groups seeking to infiltrate football again and uncontrolled filth and abuse on social media platforms.
The way forward is for football to lead on equality, inclusion and cohesion. It must reflect on what it has been doing for the past 25 years, what has been achieved, what is being done and what is still to be done. Football must be more open, accessible, transparent, progressive and accountable. Those who run the game must take the pursuit of equality, inclusion and cohesion in a coherent and co-ordinated way across the entirety of the game. The FA must lead for the whole of football and the other leaders among the Premier League, the English Football League, the Professional Footballers’ Association, the League Managers Association and the Football Supporters’ Federation must be united in collective action in pursuit of football’s equality goals and inclusion outcomes.