CR in the dressing roomPosted by jeff in blog February 16, 2012
Sport is all about playing by the rules. So why does the English Football Association believe that it sits outside the guidelines that are shaping businesses across the country? There is very little difference between a sports team and any traditional business – football is a commercial enterprise offering a product for purchase. Yet while business is accountable through corporate responsibility to encourage and recognise the value that diversity brings, football continues to get away with racism, sexism and homophobia.
When it comes to discrimination against gays, football hasn’t moved on at all since the death of Justin Fashanu, who remarkably has been the only footballer in the history of the FA to come out. The recent BBC3 documentary Britain’s Gay Footballers explores the potential reasons for why the sport remains in the closet, but fails to find a concrete solution to tackling the problem. The answer isn’t that simple.
Businesses not only have a responsibility to create an environment where homosexuals are equal in the workplace, it is now the law. Harassment or dismissal due to sexual orientation should now be a thing of the past. So why do gay footballers struggle to come out? Is it from fear that they will not be accepted in the dressing room by other players? Harassment on the pitch by fans? Or pressure from managers and agents that their careers will not reach the heights of other players? Each of these potential barriers are now covered by legislation, but with no players actually coming out, its clear that legal protection is not sufficient to encourage gays to be open in the game.
Racism has also been an issue in the sport for decades. Action to tackle racial abuse has been mixed but the problem is still evident – as recent events between Liverpool player Luis Suárez and Patrice Evra reveal. Following allegations that Suárez used racial slurs against Evra, the FA stated that “there is no place for in discrimination in football and we will continue to strive to eliminate it.” The result for Suarez was an eight game ban and a fine of only half his weekly salary. This weekend Suárez continued to snub Evra on the pitch – clearly the FA’s attempts to eliminate racism is not working.
Gareth Thomas, the Welsh rugby player who publicly revealed his homosexuality in 2009, believes that the FA needs to make a statement to encourage diversity in the game. He is correct – and there are few things that the FA need to make happen:
The culture of any organisation is founded on strong leadership – the FA management team must make a visible commitment to equality in football. This includes developing support across the organisation where chairmen and managers can overcome their ignorance and educate themselves on diversity. Managers within business are trained with skills to encourage equality in the workplace and get the best out of their teams – the same should be the standard within football.
The FA must speak up as a united voice on discrimination – this would include any manager being interviewed on the subject vocally supporting any gay player who wanted to come out, as well as denouncing homophobia and racism by their team and fans.
Firmer action must be taken by the FA for any incident of racist or homophobic abuse by both players and fans. In business, if an employee was found to have racially or homophobically abused a colleague they can be subject to gross misconduct and dismissal, and potentially even legal action. The FA cannot continue to protect players that break the law – they must back up their statement that they are working to eliminate discrimination with decisive action.
And finally, work needs to continue at the grass roots level. Campaigns like Kick it Out need top level support to ensure that the next generation of footballers grow up as true sports ambassadors, where racism, homophobia and sexism (yes – women and men playing football together! imagine that …) is not accepted in the game.
The actions of the FA go far beyond the pitch – the game is part of English culture. Former Liverpool player John Barnes recently commented that issues like racism are systemic within our culture – and that football is not to blame. Using cultural institutions to drive change is crucial – until discrimination is truly eliminated in areas like football, we will struggle to see change within our society.