I’ve Been Fighting for Diversity in Football – But Will It Ever Make a Difference if the FA Board Stays the Same?

I’ve Been Fighting for Diversity in Football – But Will It Ever Make a Difference if the FA Board Stays the Same?

Grassroots action is essential to improving diversity and inclusivity within football – but how impactful can my work be if the people up top don't understand it?

November 11th 2020

This week, FA Chairman Greg Clarke resigned from his position after dropping a disasterclass in discourse during a conversation with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. In one morning, Clarke managed to undermine all the work the FA has done to become a more progressive organisation, with offensive and ill-considered comments on race, gender and sexual orientation.

Clarke referred to Black players as “coloured people”, put the lack of South Asian football players in England down to “different career interests”, claimed that homosexuality was a “life choice”, and said that girls don’t like playing football in case they get hit with the ball.

As a young Black male working within football – and as a keen advocate for change within the game – my first thoughts were ones of confusion. How could the head of an organisation be so brazen with his comments? How could a chief representative of a ‘diverse’ game be so poor in his understanding of different societal groups to his own? How are we here again?

I’ve worked with organisations like the FA and Kick It Out to improve football and as a result, I’ve seen Greg Clarke talk up his commitment to diversity on more than one occasion. But what happened yesterday wasn’t an unfortunate slip of the tongue, it was just another footnote in the ever-growing anthology of systemic problems within English football.

His resignation, and the speed with which he acted, should be welcomed. Now more than ever, we need people who really understand disenfranchised communities to come to the fore and drive meaningful change forward. We can’t afford more slip ups. Everytime someone at the FA drops the ball like this, it threatens the validity of the work I – and so many of my peers – are doing to make football a place of equality for all.

I already fear that the FA’s next move won’t be the change we need.

Out goes Greg Clarke, and in comes his substitute: Peter McCormick. The FA’s new Interim Chairman will be best known to many as Luis Suarez’s legal representative in the shameful case with Patrice Evra in 2011. The most triggering aspect of this? The defence McCormick used for Suarez. The suggestion that an alleged racial incident could be made up in order to gain revenge for a foul is seriously worrying.

From the bottom looking up, I personally worry for the future of the game. We are just a few weeks on from the launch of the FA Diversity Leadership Code and already, the organisation finds itself entangled in two problematic situations. First, the code’s omission of disability and now, this situation with its leadership.

For a long time, football has been deemed an ‘old boy’s club’ and this is an unwelcome association that must be broken.

As someone who has been a beneficiary of FA programmes such as the National Youth Council and the Kick It Out Game Changers programme, I begin to wonder, how much change can I really drive if the perspective at the top of the game remains the same.

These programmes have enabled me to plant the seeds of change in grassroots football – from coaching in my local community, mentoring young journalists, and hosting diversity workshops for a string of organisations – but I have to wonder if this work has already reached a glass ceiling?

“The next FA Chairman needs to understand the difference between diversity and inclusion.”

I see parallels here between the fight for Black representation in coaching staffs and in boardrooms. Black players represent 33% of the Premier League, but there has only ever been nine Black managers in the league’s history. And the lack of Black executives is well documented. What is the systemic problem that blocks progress?

It seems like power keeps exchanging hands among the same types of people, who all hold the same perspectives and experiences on life and society. How influential can my grassroots work be if the people who have power will never be able to truly appreciate its significance, importance, or potential?

The next FA Chairman needs to understand the difference between diversity and inclusion. Diversity is having people of different backgrounds in the picture, but inclusion is letting these people be heard.

Can I expect someone who has not experienced my experiences to fight for me? This is not just the case for me as a Black male, but the case of many within society whose views and opinions are not represented on the board. This is a question being asked by people of every gender, by people of every sexuality, by people of every physical difference.

People are doing amazing things within their communities with limited resources – but how much can ever really change at the top if the Secret Club retain all the power?