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Wednesday, April 27, 2011


                        mentor and leadership conference


A month ago I attended the Leading the Way conference in London hosted by the FA’s Anti-Racism campaigning organization Kick It Out as part of their recently establish Mentor and Leadership scheme.
Some twelve months ago I signed up for the volunteer based initiative but never got to any of the ‘PANEL’ sessions which took place in Birmingham, Bristol and Newcastle, as they were only on weekday early evenings and therefore only relevant to those in the locality, and because I was, like many volunteers who give up their own time to be part of the football world, at work myself.
Another reason why I never juggled things about to enable me to attend was because I became aware of the guests invited for these sessions. Now we are all aware of the good work KIO have done for 2 decades in helping to combat Racism within the game and the organization has to be commended for wanting to bring in other minority groups to its fold and tackle other issues including women’s and girls inclusion and those with a disability and the LGBT community, but to have ‘panel ‘guests listed as those from a Black and Asian  professional men’s background only, did nothing to instill any encouragement that  women players, coaches etc, and anyone male and female who identified as being LGBT  were being catered for.
The London conference I took as giving the scheme a second chance, as many well known faces were lined up as speakers to help reach out with encouragement to those volunteers who wanted to progress with  their workload and possibly attain a career in the game at some capacity.
Sadly my reservations that, although well meaning, the organization was once again not getting things just quite right, around LGBT issues anyway.

I have seen ex Chelsea and Celtic player Paul Elliott speak on a number of occasions, and also had personal conversations with  him and always found him to be very knowledgeable around diversity and really keen to be inclusive of LGBT’s and after his opening speech still think of Paul as being a great addition to our troops in challenging homophobia, although on this occasion his praise of one guest I am unsure about.
Paul stated that the event was to ‘provide people with an opportunity to become involved in football, and that football needs to be inclusive of all communities.’ He also said that 24% of players come from a BME community, but they come through slowly and KIO were hoping to address this.
Paul finished things by saying that a zero tolerance has to be taken and there also needs to be a right mindset from the top of the game.

First up to speak was EHRC’s Trevor Phillips and he stated the following, “There is less bigotry in today’s game because the majority of fans will not join in with the certain chants or abuse.” He then told us that EHRC had given more funding to the Leading the Way conference to continue into 2011/12 season, and 300,000 pounds had been granted to Show Racism the Red Card.
He then touched on topical items and stated that ‘no one wants to see a dad with his daughter sit and watch/ listen too football with commentators like KEYS and GRAY ‘who are scumbags.’
Mr. Phillips then made a gaff and announced “there are no openly gay players in the UK

Really? Only the day before the Yorkshire Terriers annual tournament had seen over 200 LGBT players turn out! Let’s hope what he actually meant to say was that there are no openly LGBT professional players.
He continued asking questions as to why there are only 2% of professional managers in the 92 league clubs who are black? And why are there no Asian managers?
Interestingly he then made a statement that these type of problems in football are not just about football but about society as a whole.(note, many others state that football is behind the times and that society is now more accepting of minority groups.)
He continued ‘What we need from the FA is change.” And “We need people to do the right things while we are not in the room.” He then spoke once more and eluded to the terminology ‘gay ‘ a few times and on one occasion, wait for it, ‘lesbian’  but sadly never used the correct terminology of LGBT!!

The PFA’s Simone Pound was up next, she told us how she took up her role in football when Fulham women needed more representation. Stats were first on the PFA’s agenda and we were told that they have a duty of care to 3,500 members and present players and a further 7,500 former players, and young boys who are coming through the system.
She continued saying “It’s unacceptable and illegal to shout racist abuse at players.” Shame there was no reference to homophobia in that statement which would once again helped to ‘regulize’ and ‘usualize’ things around LGBT issues!
We were told that 8 years ago the PFA called a meeting to address the barriers that are in place, and that education is the backbone of the Union and they hope to guide players back into society if they don’t make it at the top level as only 1 in 3 scholars are offered professional contracts.
We were then told that the PFA had written to every player in the Union and asked them to take part in a new DVD tackling homophobic bullying in schools.
Simone finished by saying “the England women’s team are now on central contracts and are elite and at the top of their game, and all these are also PFA members.

Peter Tatchell was next up and was introduced as a human rights campaigner, you may have seen over the last few weeks that the press picked up only on the fact that Peter stated as he did a couple of years ago that he wanted the FA and top players to make an MTV style video to challenge homophobia, and that together we could effect change, he then touched on the following.
“Two decades ago it was difficult to get anyone in football (FA) to take homophobia seriously and that I used to have any contact ignored or given a polite thank you. (note, things haven’t really progressed much Peter, as a number of stakeholders from the LGBT community are no longer part of the  FA’s THAG and we are ignored now.)
Peter said that he didn’t know of any senior officials who were LGBT.
Peter stated that “we from the LGBT community have taken inspiration from the fight against Racism, and it’s great that the ground regulations are much better, and tougher than they were 20 years ago and that the FA has got it together and now has good paper polices.” (note, they would be Peter if they were ever implemented at games, and that the policies were out in public for all to see and carried out !)
Peter finished by saying, “ I am not in favor of punishing people for prejudice  but if there is something serious then yes, as a last resort.”

During the break I overheard some of the delegates speaking about the DVD that the FA and KIO produced last February and that it was considered to be a waste of time and money as the FA by pulling the launch showed that they did not want to deal with things.

Further speakers at the afternoon Q+A gave their thoughts on a number of issues. Former Chelsea player Paul Canoville believed that “Clubs can do a lot more than they are doing now. After all good practice done these days, some people I know are still too scared to go to games because of what gets said.”
He encouraged those volunteers present who give their time to football from minority backgrounds to carry on being who they are and doing what they are doing.

Joyce Cook chair of Level Playing Field said “There is still a very stereotypical image of disabled people, and that other people have to invest in the human aspect. Those at the top who have a disability have to be visible. And you have to believe in yourself and values. (note, much the same train of thought as Peter here.)

Anna Kessel a well known female journalist in football identified “There is sexism and misogyny in the game, and its patronizing. A lot of women in the media do not like this, but they don’t speak out!”

Moving on to a workshop at the event saw the volunteers given guidance from mentors within football (and sport) from Michael Bennett the PFA’s Education Officer, and former NBA player Jamie Edwards. Edwards was asked to work with Freddie Flintoff prior to that infamous ASHES win 5 in 2005, and now has England Rugby Union player Lewis Moody as a client.
Mr. Edwards spoke while everyone took notes and then held a little lit of a team bonding exercise for everyone in the room and it was here that,  not for the first time at this conference I had a few concerns as to one or two people involved in the equality and diversity guidance  given out at these type of events set up by football’s authorities as the following happened.
We were asked to put hands on the shoulder of a person in front of us and work a little relaxation, then we were told to “clasp hands together bring them to our chins look up and give thanks and praise to god!!” Following this Jamie then spoke of “how difficult it was for young fit athletes to go for or ask for therapy with a psychologist, we had to imagine being one of these young men and how frightening it would be for them to go into a room with a stranger who would soon be asking them questions they would be fearing like, did you ever ride a pink bicycle when you were young?”
At which point everyone in the room started laughing!

There is much work still to be done and there is also much learning to be undertaken along the way by those in positions of authority before we can together effect any change, and sometimes people need to be seen to be doing and saying the right thing while we ARE in the room.

Lindsay England.

(The above account of the event taken from notes are my own from personal experience of being there and mine alone.)