‘Time for Action’
Lord Herman Ouseley founded Kick It Out in 1993 and remains the chair of the organisation. Here, he talks to www.kickitout.org about the launch of the campaign, the early resistance to its formation, the key initiatives which have raised its profile and the challenges which still need to be overcome.
When did you feel a campaign was needed to eradicate racism and discrimination from football?
Well I think from my perspective, a campaign was needed to tackle racism in football from about the 1960’s because it was fairly evident when I was a schoolboy playing football, and later on when I started to play for teams locally that racism was quite vicious.
It started to happen on a slow scale within professional football, it was very evident at the grounds I went to – QPR, Millwall and all around London, but not worrying to the extent it became during the 1970’s with the increase in right wing politics, the National Front and organisations like that.
By 1984, it was something in which I had the opportunity to do something about when I was with the Greater London Council (GLC). During 1984, the GLC at that time declared London Against Racism as an all-year campaign against racism; I attempted then to try and get football clubs interested in tackling the issue but without any success.
When I was the chairman for the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), which happened in 1993, I saw that this is an opportunity to try and do something because by then I stopped going to professional football it was so awful; not only the violence but the racism was appalling as it was throughout the seventies and eighties and I thought ‘well if I can’t do something now, I never will.’
As chairman of the organisation, I spoke to a few of my colleagues in the organisation, they weren’t interested in sport to that extent, and I said something has got to be done, it’s just damn awful that the national sport is such a disgrace, and I said to a couple of colleagues of mine including Louise Ansari – ‘If we approach all the clubs in this country, the professional footballs clubs, the 92 and said we want to run a campaign, if we get 50 percent responding, then we will do it’.
Low and behold we did, we got over 50 percent fairly quickly; people saying yes we recognise there is a problem and we want to do something about it and we’re joining the campaign with you. And that’s how it started. It took us about a year to get to 90 (clubs) and another couple of years to get to the full 92, just one or two held us up.
We had problems with the authorities. The Football Association (FA) were reluctant to join in, The Football League said there wasn’t a problem, we were making it up. The Premier League were very responsive; David Dein, the deputy chairman of the Premier League, was fully supportive, The FA in the form of David Davies was supportive, and then we managed to get who was our biggest enthusiast at the time, Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) – I must say when I say at the time, he still is an enthusiast for the campaign. But he was a principle supporter because the campaign then moved off with The Commission for Racial Equality, jointly with the Professional Footballers Association, in launching the campaign during that season.
What was the general response when the campaign was officially launched?
I don’t think we had widespread support because it took some time before we started to see positive responses from clubs, the police and other agencies.
I think the important time that we started to see some movement was around 1996, and just before the new Labour government came in 1997, when we also had legislation to follow to try and deal with crowd disturbances and football fan hooliganism and violence.
So they were all very important components to help solidify a response to what was a huge problem of football violence and hooliganism as well as the abuse from our end.
But by then we had support from The Football Association, the Football League, The Premier League and then we worked away across all the agencies gradually to try and engage them.
Fans, we worked with right from the outset through a number of fan groups who were very keen to get involved. We also had some resentment from a few fan groups who were very active over the years prior to Kick It Out starting who themselves stood in the rain, wind and the bad weather to try and get their clubs to tackle the issues of foul racist abuse and saw us as ‘Johnny Come Latelies’, coming in and trying to get things done without their involvement and we had to make the proper connections justifiably with them, engage and help to support them in what they were trying to do with their clubs. Part of what evolved out of that was how we recognised the importance of fans themselves taking responsibility for trying to stop other fans from behaving badly.
How did the support of high-profile backers help the campaign?
The main people involved from day one were the PFA in the form of Gordon Taylor and Brendon Batson. We had David Davies from the Football Association and David Dein was a supporter from the Premier League.
In terms of the visible individuals involved we had Richard Faulkner, from the Football Trust, as it was then which evolved into the Football Foundation. The leading players we had were John Fashanu, who had started anti-racist work at Millwall and we had Paul Elliott who was a stalwart and a supporter of Kick It Out throughout the last 20 years in a very distinguished and total way.
We also had backing from people like Garth Crooks and a number of other people behind the scenes who were background supporters, but out front it was mainly John and Paul in the initial days.
How has Kick It Out broadened its remit to tackle all forms of discrimination?
Well Kick It Out started really focused on racism for obvious reasons. Racism was pernicious, nasty, in your face, and coupled with violence it was totally unacceptable. Abuse on the pitch, abuse off the pitch, on the terraces, in the stands, in the seats and on the streets, it was just foul.
We still see that as our focus but as we evolve there is a clear recognition in our society that there are other forms of discrimination and a lot of it interacts; and the fact is when you talk about sexism there are Black and Asian women who are the victims of sexism as indeed there are Black players who may be homosexual who would be the victims of homophobia and discrimination against homosexuals.
So when you look across the whole spectrum of people who are widely discriminated against there are Black and Ethnic minorities who feature within those, so it’s quite appropriate for an organisation like Kick It Out to whilst focus on race to have a broad platform of non-discrimination. It is just as evil to be abusive to women, gay and lesbian people, disabled people, older people, people because of their religion or faith or no faith.
Kick It Out, as it grew and became much more active and engaged with football fans, football fans wanted to say ‘yes racism is intolerable – but we want to also campaign against other things’; and whilst there are other organisations campaigning as well on those things and have a better basis of experience, knowledge and skill to campaign for that we work with them and support them and we work in partnership.
We see our work as engaged and functioning with other people, we can’t do it on our own so we work through fan groups, we work through the agencies, we work with the clubs, we work with the players, we work with anyone who wants to work with us and who are already working to tackle the evils of discrimination.
How key a role has the Equality Standard played in challenging clubs?
Over the years we’ve had a gradual approach into trying to inch our way into the operations of clubs and the agencies to tackle their policies, getting them to seek their responsibility to deal with the matters of opening up opportunities for the widest possible range of applicants.
Whether its opportunities in management and coaching or administrative jobs or even football day jobs during a match. We’ve had to work to get the authorities to accept that there is a role for clubs to play themselves in those opportunities.
The equality standard in football when it was introduced nine years ago, was an attempt to get football to fall in line with the practises that exists across all other sectors in society, and to have policies about employment, policies with regards to opening up opportunities for disadvantaged groups.
The standard was to tackle a number of key areas so that clubs could demonstrate what they were doing to increase diversity and inclusion, how they were tackling discrimination, how they were promoting diversity in football and the things they were doing to discourage their fans from being racist or abusive in other ways and also to promote the diversity within the game of football, among the fans and within the community and on the football pitch.
So all those things were a natural part of the development of policies to tackle anti-discrimination in football; We’re not fully there yet but it’s a gradualism; you take one step at a time, sometimes you take one step and you get knocked back two. But the standard itself was to enable clubs to see they can do things, it’s their responsibility, they can measure the progress of their implementation, they can assess the impact of what they are doing and they can do more. It’s a layer to take people to an advanced level in the way that Aston Villa and Arsenal have reached by total work with their fans, with their communities, with their players, with their staff to achieve equality outcomes for everyone.
How key an introduction was the ‘Weeks of Action’ in raising the organisation's profile?
The ‘Weeks of Action’ is a pivotal part of what Kick It Out does because it demonstrates within the world of professional football, but it also does extend to the grassroots that football has recognition of the problem and is trying to address it.
For a lot of people it is a bit of window dressing because you hold up the banners, you wear the badges, you have the t-shirt but it’s also enabling clubs to do more and demonstrate to their public what they’re doing and why engaging with people who otherwise wouldn’t see the football club as a place where you go for equality treatment.
And the more of that they do, the more they open up their doors the more they encourage people to come in, and so the ‘Weeks of Action’ has been a showcasing moment during the season, during those two weeks, to enable each club for their home game during the two week period to demonstrate with their players and with their fans what they were doing.
In some cases it’s fair to say it is a bit of tokenism, a bit of window dressing; but for a lot of clubs it was an important moment for them in giving recognition to the fact that there is a problem, it’s one they’re tackling and if they’re not tackling it as well as they should be, they know they should be doing more. It is a demonstration to their fans and their players that we are all in this together.
Why did the campaign introduce its 'Season of Action' this year?
We moved from the ‘Weeks of Action’ now to the ‘Season of Action’ which will probably be as a next step towards a continuous process of action against to tackle discrimination, 365 days a year.
Why we’ve shifted is because for sometime people have been saying that the format is a bit stale, it’s too repetitive now without any new concepts in it. And secondly we’ve held people’s hands for a long time, it’s a bit ritualistic.
We want people to take responsibility as clubs to demonstrate to the world, to the football world what they’re doing to tackle discrimination and how they’re becoming more inclusive, how they’re becoming more diverse. What are the things they’re doing and how proud they are of their success they’ve had in their achievements to date and also pinpointing the direction in which they’re going and people they want to come with them.
But I think it’s very important that we see as part of the progression that we reach a point and say at the moment at the end of this when where we don’t need Kick It Out anymore because clubs have taken total responsibility within their communities, within the world of football to tackle and eradicate racism and other forms of discrimination.
The moment they do that then it almost becomes redundant, although in a sense it never becomes redundant because the moment you think it’s over it bites you and our work in Kick It Out – working with the grassroots, doing educational work, raising awareness amongst people outside of football who have an interest in football and want to participate in football and want to get more engaged with football, continues because it’s a very important part of what we do – it helps the wider society but it helps to see football in a different light.
How do you feel 20 years on since the campaign's inception?
When I talked about a campaign within the CRE at the time it was really a matter of this has gone so far something must be done. It was a defining moment for me because in if a job where you’ve got power, as opposed to where you’ve got no power, you can’t do something about a situation – you can’t kick up a stink and really get some action – then it’s not worth being in that job.
It wasn’t just about football and racism it was across the whole spectrum of society – we had huge problems and we took them head on with limited resources. We had no resources to start off with but we thought something has got to be done. There was no vision or strategy about where this was going to take us; as I said, the initial thought was if we get 50 percent of the clubs saying we recognise this as a problem and we will join with you – and joining us was about raising awareness, getting the t-shirts out, putting insertions in the programme, trying to tell fans what they can and can’t do, what is acceptable and what’s isn’t acceptable – trying to persuade the authorities to take the responsibilities to take actions against the clubs and fans and players who act who behave in an unacceptable way.
It was a long process of hard work and grind but I couldn’t foresee in any way that twenty years down the line where we would be. I’m no prophet, I’m no visionary, I knew what had to be done and I was very much action orientated. Me and my colleagues, in fact initially there was one Asian woman working with me, Louise Ansari – we battled away and we managed to grab people in as volunteers and put the show on the road.
That’s how we got up and running, every development was the next stage of taking us to where we’re at now but no one could envisaged we would have been here. A lot of people said we would be here today gone tomorrow – well we’re still around and we’re still pumping hard but racism is something that’s phenomenal and it reinvents itself in different ways and we can’t give up at any stage.
What type of resistance did you encounter upon launching the campaign?
I don’t think there is really one standout story but what is fascinating for me is how much people in high places thought that we were creating a problem that didn’t exist and you wondered where these people lived.
You wondered where they watched their football, was it on a satellite or was it in a box or a cocoon from reality because people were genuine when I spoke with them saying, ‘Well we go to football every week, we see many matches and we don’t see a problem.’
So that was the fascination – your face to face with people saying ‘Well I’m surprised – is there a problem?’ – Yes, there is a problem and people wanted to wash their hands and say go away, it’s not going to happen.
And some players who were also scared of actually complaining of the abuse they were getting and they were taking, said: ‘I hope you know what you’re taking on’, because they realised that I had become a punchbag, people would knock you all over the place but if you’re going to take these things on you have to be brave and I had the opportunity to do it and there was no stepping back.
And the important thing was to continually get back to people and say ‘Look, were not going to give up on you, we’re going to support you but if you don’t do what you have to do we’re also going to take you on’.
I think it was very important that we send out powerful messages to people that they know those who continue to maintain their stance against equality and opportunities for all are very resilient in resisting the changes in our society and those people who have been brave in trying to take them on have been the victims and have suffered as a consequence of putting their heads above the parapet.
But the whole history of struggle shows that you don’t achieve anything unless there are people who are prepared to make sacrifices and there are players, who I have to pay tribute to them, who have spoken out and damaged their own careers as a result. But unfortunately history tells us it’s the only way you bring about change, people who are the victims have got to speak out, they’ve got to be brave. It’s sad it has to be that way but that’s reality.
Where are we now? Where do we need to be?
Football is still very much a closed shop at the top of the game at the elite level. Managers, coaching, in the boardroom, these are areas that are foreclosed in a lot of ways to Black and Ethnic minority (BAME) people, I think that’s an area that has to be opened up considerably.
I think there is a feeling amongst certainly Black players, and more so Asian players who haven’t emerged to the extent that one would have expected to see by now there is more than a glass ceiling that would prevent them from progressing, it’s a concrete reinforced ceiling that they have to break through.
And part of our job is to help the authorities, clubs and agencies to see that they can do more to open up opportunities. so there is still a big ambitious programme to be tackled to make football seen by the public as a model sector industry in our world where.
You’ve got a super Premier League that sells itself around the whole world as a fabulous product, generates a lot of income for football in this country. But it’s not just about that, it also has a morality inside of it which percolates the whole game from the FA level right down to schoolboy and schoolgirls and disabled people playing football in this country in as much as it takes pride in recognising that people who play and watch football have to have respect for who they are as individuals and be treated with dignity Irrespective of their colour, their race, their circumstances and sex. That’s where we’ve got to take football.