Sports Think Tank - The Business of Inclusion in Football

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Sports Think Tank

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The Business of Inclusion in Football

On Monday, December 1, 2014, as part of the sport business public seminar series, Birkbeck School of Business, Economics and Informatics held a panel discussion entitled "The Business of Inclusion in Football" at The Clore Management Centre in central London. The following speakers gave short presentations then took part in a Q & A session with the audience:

Dr Andy Harvey (Chair) – Birkbeck College

Bobby Barnes – Deputy Chief Executive PFA

Kelly Simmons – FA Director of the National Game and Women's Football

Roisin Wood – Director, Kick It Out

Mark Gonella – Communications Director, Arsenal FC

The focus of the debate was on the current state and future directions for improving diversity in football, particularly amongst fans, and with particular regard to the LGBT community. Homosexuality was described as 'football's last taboo', and while there are no openly gay players in the professional ranks of the men's game, and numerous incidents of homophobic language and behaviour paint a gloomy picture, there are also some promising signs of improvement. Recent surveys have indicated that as many as 90% of fans want to see an end to homophobic chanting and it was also reported that fans of clubs like Brighton and Hove Albion (who are strongly associated with a large local gay community) have experienced a significant reduction in homophobic chants directed toward them at away fixtures in the last year. Attending the debate were representatives from LGBT supporters' groups and it was predicted that more of these groups would be started in the future.

Roisin Wood of Kick It Out described how diversity among football fans is growing, as is the confidence to report incidents of homophobia at matches. This confidence is aided by a new app developed for Kick It Out which allows fans to instantly and anonymously report any discriminatory language or behaviour they witness directly to the Kick It Outorganisation. Incidents can then be followed up appropriately and in some cases have already led to fines and banning orders.

Both Kelly Simmons of the FA and Bobby Barnes of the PFA argued that inclusion in football is "good business" for clubs and supporters alike as standards can only be improved by widening the talent pool of those working in the game. They spoke about the need to achieve a greater diversity in football administration, Bobby Barnes citing the current figure of 20% as the proportion of PFA staff from BME backgrounds. Compared to the recent findings of numbers of black and ethnic minority coaching and management staff in professional football, 20% is a promising achievement. The theme of their presentations was however very much, "lots of good work done so far, but still much more to do". Diversity among disciplinary panels in football was also singled out as an important issue in tackling homophobic incidents, and recent rules on tougher sanctions for players engaging in homophobic abuse were advocated by both Bobby and Kelly. The final point emphasised was the importance of education for players, both senior and junior, and panellists and audience members alike shared experiences of education as an effective tool in behaviour change.

Mark Gonella of Arsenal FC presented on the rich history of the club in embracing the local community and its work on openness and inclusion in bringing a diverse group of fans to support the team. He emphasised the club's philosophy of a "top-down" approach to inclusion, embedding diversity policy into the club's decision-making at senior management and board-level.

Luke Regan, December 2, 2014