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Beyond Targets: Navigating the Path to Equity in Football Through Ethnic and Gender Diversity Initiatives

Sunday, 26 November 2023 00:49 Sport

"Breaking the Mold: Addressing Diversity in Football Beyond Superficial Targets"

In the pursuit of equity in football, it's evident that opportunity, unlike talent, is not evenly distributed across all levels of the game. The Football Leadership Diversity Code (FLDC) results shed light on the existing gaps in the sport's ability to instigate systemic changes in representation. Although the code, initiated in 2020 as a voluntary agreement by the Football Association with the participation of 56 clubs, signaled positive intent in enhancing diversity in coaching and leadership roles, the clubs' failure to meet targets underscores the challenges in effecting substantial change.

Despite commendable progress within the FA, Premier League, and English Football League, the clubs' inability to fulfill their commitments was somewhat anticipated, given the inherent limitations of the code's creation. Kick It Out had expressed concerns during the setup process, emphasizing the need for transparency in data across the entire workforce for genuine systemic change. However, with only 60% of clubs participating and those sharing recruitment data solely with the FA, coupled with the absence of sanctions for non-compliance, the code faced an uphill battle from the start.

In light of this evidence and three years of attempting to make headway, it becomes increasingly apparent that football bodies may lack the capability or willingness to enact change in this critical area. Confronting this reality demands acknowledging a hard truth: those overseeing competitions or regulating the game might not possess expertise in equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). Effecting transformative, lasting change in this realm requires extensive experience, as evidenced by two crucial lessons drawn from 20 years in EDI across various sectors: the necessity of a systemic approach and the crucial role of data and targets in engineering change.

To truly make progress, football must embrace boldness and courage while shedding any arrogance that assumes superiority over industries that have successfully committed to such reforms. Without this, we risk finding ourselves in the same discussions in the future—analyzing the persistently low numbers of black managers, the scarcity of professional players from South Asian backgrounds, or the inadequate representation of women in boardrooms. The FA's initiative to mandate diversity data reporting for all clubs is a positive step, but tough conversations lie ahead. The journey towards true diversity and inclusion in football demands continuous commitment and a departure from complacency.

"Charting the Path to True Diversity: A Call for Transparency and Targets in Football"

While the Premier League and EFL claim to report diversity data, the lack of public disclosure raises questions about their commitment to transparency. The Football Association (FA) aims to change this by advocating for the publication of this data biannually, urging a shift towards openness in workforce reporting. However, key questions linger—will clubs comply, and what repercussions will they face if they choose not to?

Drawing from past experiences with the Football Leadership Diversity Code, there is a collective call for the Premier League, EFL, Women's Super League, and all clubs to embrace transparency by making workforce data public by the start of the 2024-25 season. This transparency should extend to professional referees and areas under the FA's jurisdiction, including grassroots coaching and refereeing, each grappling with their unique diversity challenges. The plea is clear: if clubs and organizations fail to comply, there should be sanctions. This should be the baseline for everyone invested in football, as it lays the foundation for understanding the true scale of the challenge and finding representative solutions.

Yet, the call goes beyond transparency. The proposal for future diversity targets, integrated into FA, Premier League, and EFL rules, sets ambitious milestones to be achieved by June 2028. These targets include a 20% representation of Black, Asian, minority ethnic (BAME) or dual heritage managers and first-team coaches in the men's professional game, 50% female managers and first-team coaches in the women's professional game, 20% BAME or dual heritage managers and first-team coaches in the women's professional game, 5% South Asian professional players, 20% BAME or dual heritage professional players in the women's game, 15% BAME or dual heritage executive leadership in the men's game, 40% female executive leadership in the men's game, and 15% BAME and dual-heritage referees in the men's professional game.

It's crucial to emphasize the distinction between targets and quotas in these conversations. The call is for intentional goals that allow football to measure its progress openly and transparently against these objectives. By setting and openly working towards these targets, football can truly embark on a journey towards inclusivity and representation, reflecting the diverse tapestry of those who love the beautiful game.

"Upholding Meritocracy: Advancing Diversity in Football Through Tangible Change"

It is paramount to emphasize that any successful candidate in football must meet the criteria for their role and navigate recruitment processes as the best candidate. The advocacy for diversity is not an endorsement for appointing individuals based solely on protected characteristics, as this remains illegal in the United Kingdom. The prevailing myth of meritocracy in most areas of the game necessitates a critical examination of the distribution of talent and opportunity. While talent is evenly dispersed, the same cannot be said for opportunities, an issue evident across all levels of the game.

In recent years, Kick It Out has collaborated with governing bodies to drive tangible change, achieving collective progress in various areas. However, the advocacy will persist, urging the government to mandate and monitor data reporting in the independent football regulator's code of governance. Partnerships across the football landscape will continue to be cultivated to establish foundational elements conducive to success.

Football, for too long, has accepted campaigns or symbolic activities as indicators of reform in the diversity and inclusion arena. The call is clear: tangible change in representation and culture must be the sole barometers of success. The words of Tony Burnett, Chief Executive of Kick It Out, underscore the commitment to pushing beyond mere rhetoric, actively working towards an inclusive and diverse future in football.

In conclusion, the imperative for change in football's approach to diversity and inclusion is underscored by the need to move beyond symbolic campaigns and activities. The insistence on meritocracy, where successful candidates are chosen based on their qualifications and abilities, aligns with the legal framework in the United Kingdom. The persistent myth of meritocracy in football highlights the crucial disparity between the even distribution of talent and the unequal allocation of opportunities across all levels of the game.

As Kick It Out continues to collaborate with governing bodies, achieving collective progress in various areas, the commitment to driving tangible change remains unwavering. The ongoing advocacy for mandated and monitored data reporting, embedded in the independent football regulator's code of governance, reflects a strategic push for transparency and accountability. The call for foundational changes, cultivated through partnerships across the football landscape, signifies a dedicated effort to create an environment conducive to diverse representation and success.

The words of Tony Burnett, Chief Executive of Kick It Out, serve as a rallying cry for the football community to shift from complacency to action. Success, he asserts, should be measured not by mere campaigns but by the palpable transformation in representation and culture within the sport. The imperative is clear: football must actively pursue and achieve tangible change to truly embody the principles of diversity and inclusion.

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