Seminar will lead way in increasing understanding in football
A seminar on the issue of institutional discrimination in football has been hailed as a historical first that will lead to further action on the issue.
The gathering in Amsterdam on Wednesday (19 January), organised by UEFA, the Dutch FA (KNVB), English Football Association (FA), and the FARE network heard from a range of speakers including campaigners, former footballers and senior administrators.
‘Work over the next decade’
“It is essential to work over the next decade“, said advisor to the UEFA president William Gaillard in opening the seminar. “We have to be always one step head of society in fighting any ignorance that may arise.”
Dr Steven Bradbury, a researcher at the Institute of Youth Sport at Loughborough University, presented a research report on representation in European football among minorities and women.
He explained that institutional discrimination, among other things, is a collective failure of an organisation at all levels to provide an appropriate service to people because of their ethnic, cultural or religious background, or their gender – either intentionally or through a lack of understanding, unwitting prejudice thoughtlessness or ignorance.
‘Low levels of women’s representation’
Dr. Bradbury raised some key issues in respect to institutional discrimination, such as the low level of women’s coaches in the professional and amateur game in Europe, as well as the low number of women in senior administrative positions at men’s professional clubs, as well in football governance.
He also set out some examples of good practice examples which included the case of Norway, where a quota system was introduced in 1985, determining that at least one woman would need to be appointed on each of the key committees.
This has led to 40 percent women’s representation, and in 1996, Karen Espelund became the first female vice-president of the Norwegian FA and later General Secretary.
‘Quotas were important for me’
“I would never have been able to prove my competence if I had not been part of a quota system,” she told former Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United striker Garth Crooks, who chaired a panel of speakers.
“Of course you have to prove yourself, but quotas are extremely important in opening the door.”
Although 32.7% of all players at highest levels in professional football are ‘expatriate migrant’ players from Europe, Africa and South America, less than 1% of senior administrators at professional clubs and executive committee members at national and regional federations are from ethnic minorities.
‘Very few coaches or black leaders’
Former Olympique Marseille chairman Pape Diouf commented that while a large percentage of players in France are black, very few became coaches or moved into leadership positions after their careers. “It is not a problem of football alone – it is in society,” he said. “I was the first black club president in France, and I hope I will not be the last one.”
Bryan Roy, a former AFC Ajax and Nottingham Forest player, and currently youth coach at Ajax reflected on what helped him move on after his career, and underlined the importance of education. “Without it being a black or white issue,” he said. “For example, Johan Cruyff created his own academy, to make it possible for young sportsman to receive education and make it easier for them to also participate in the sport after their career. I think education is the key point.”
Valeriu Nicolae, a leading European campaigner for Roma rights and a FARE Board member, told how institutionalised prejudice and exclusion was reflected in football for many Roma communities.
Despite their love for the game, Roma players were excluded by the lack of resources in their communities. Those that made it to professional level felt they had to hide their identities.
Delegates at the seminar agreed that the gathering represented a first step towards future solutions. “Some things are so easy to change. I call upon the presidents of football associations to stand up and make everybody aware that we can easily change the landscape that we are facing now,” said KNVB president and UEFA Executive Committee member Michael van Praag.
‘We can change mind-sets’
“The leaders of associations, whether in football or other sports, can change mind settings, because that is the first thing will have to change. And I think everyone present here will already look at it different then they did this morning. I would like to thank the FA, FARE and UEFA and all participants for taking this high-level initiative.”