Supporters discuss equality within football at 'Fans for Diversity' event
Over 60 football fans descended on the Impact Hub in central London on Wednesday (22 October) evening to discuss the importance of equality and inclusion within football, increasing the power of supporters at their clubs, and the work needed to be undertaken to diversify crowds attending matches at all levels of the game across the country.
The panel discussion was run under the ‘Fans for Diversity’ banner, a joint venture between Kick It Out and the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF), as supporters were encouraged to put forward their contributions on the ongoing battle to eradicate the discrimination from the game in a lively discussion as part of the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) Network’s official ‘Action Weeks’.
Marcus Spellar, presenter of the Football Ramble, hosted the panel which included Mark Doidge, a leading expert on European football fan culture and a Lecturer at the University of Brighton, Carrie Dunn, a freelance journalist and lecturer in Sports Journalism at the University of East London, and Billy Grant, a Brentford and England supporter who is a member of the FSF’s National Council.
The remaining members of the panel were Pav Samra, a member of Derby County supporters’ group the Punjabi Rams, and Anwar Uddin, the FSF’s Diversity and Campaigns Manager whose role is shared with Kick It Out, as the discussion focused on a range of topics such as the experiences of those at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the importance of fan representation at boardroom level.
A common theme which ran throughout the evening was the encouraging progress which has been made in English football to tackle overt racism within stadiums, but the acknowledgement that there are many challenges which still need to be addressed such as the level of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. On a separate topic, German football was praised for how fans feel more embraced.
“Things have changed significantly but there are still challenges to overcome [in tackling discrimination],” said Plymouth Argyle fan Doidge. “We should be aware of how far we’ve come but it’s a constant battle we need to fight. The fans are often blamed but we should be turning our lobbying attention to the boardrooms, and how we can become more representative.”
Grant supported Doidge’s stance: “We need people in the positions of power that think differently to those sitting there now. As it stands, there’s a way of doing things and until football cures itself of the white, male boardroom situation we are not going to sort it out. As a business, it doesn’t run well and until it becomes more reflective of society, the game won’t address these problems.”
Luton Town supporter Dunn added her thoughts to this debate by taking a strong stance on the level of sexism within football and how those running the game need to address levels of representation: “I do think the FA are aware on some level that there is a problem with sexism in football but look at their own governance – it is pretty much a bunch of middle-aged to older white, fairly well off men.
“Look at the people they’re representing: the fanbases, the participants. Whether that’s officials or players, how can you possibly represent them when you’ve only got one demographic reflected in a governing body? You can’t reflect the diversity we have as football fans so I think the FA needs to get its own house in order before things can change.”
Uddin, who leads on the delivery of the ‘Fans for Diversity’ initiative, is looking to support projects and groups trying to make football stadiums more diverse on a matchday including ‘Headscarves to Football Scarves’, an initiative which saw 20 young south Asian women watch Arsenal face Hull City at Emirates Stadium earlier this month, and Non League Day.
“I’ve travelled the country in the last eight months and there is an appetite to diversify crowds,” said Uddin. “Clubs need to be receptive to engage with the local community and add balance across their stadiums on a matchday. We need to see real examples of leadership to promote how seriously diversity and inclusion is being taken to help set a trend to be followed by others.”
Another group which Uddin and the ‘Fans for Diversity’ initiative have been giving support to are the newly-established Punjabi Rams who are going to be linking up with the Punjabi Wolves – a supporters’ group of Wolverhampton Wanderers – for a social gathering in Derby after their teams face each other at the iPro Stadium on 8 November.
Samra spoke about the work of the Punjabi Rams and what they’re looking to achieve. He said: “One of our aims is to encourage more Punjabis to support their local team and experience the atmosphere of the iPro rather than following a team that they have no geographical connection with. Now we have a core group of long-term season-ticket holders and you’ll regularly see us at away games.”
If you would like to find out more about the ‘Fans for Diversity’ initiative ran by Kick It Out and the Football Supporters’ Federation, please click here.