AMAR AZAM attended a number of successful conferences tackling some key of issues in football
A series of events aimed at tackling issues of diversity, social exclusion and under-representation in sport in Britain have been hailed a success by organisers.
Last week saw the Football Supporters Federation’s Fans for Diversity campaign, run in partnership with Kick It Out, host a debate on how to deal with matters such as racism, club ownership, identity, women in the stands and homophobia.
This week, the Black Collective of Media in Sport ran The D Word, a conference aimed at debating diversity and how it should impact upon sports coverage in the digital age.
Both events were supported by Football Against Racism in Europe as a part of its week of action.
The D Word organiser Leon Mann, a freelance journalist, brought together a wide group of people — television executives, working media professionals and academics — for a debate on a fairer and more representative media.
Senior sports heads from major news outlets such as the BBC, BT Sport and Sky Sports attended, as did representatives from national newspapers.
Mann was pleased with the event and the discussions that were had. “This was a good first step. It was honest, insightful and thought-provoking,” he said.
“The important thing was to spark a debate on diversity in the sports media in this country and I believe that we had that.”
Mann added: “In the years ahead, if we are to run an event of this kind, it needs to firmly focus on success stories and not about some of the issues covered here.”
The Daily Mirror’s Darren Lewis was part of a panel that discussed how news coverage would be shaped if there was greater diversity.
Others that contributed included his colleague Martin Lipton, as well as ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley and Jeanette Kwakye, the former British sprinter who is now working in the media, as they spoke about matters such as recruitment, work experience and talent identification initiatives.
Rodney Hinds, sports editor of The Voice and long term advocate of a diverse media, called upon the major organisations in attendance to continue to commit to look beyond the more traditional means of recruiting.
“At my newspaper, we have a proud heritage of nurturing people so that they can go on and develop their careers,” said Hinds. “The talent is there and I have always wanted to keep these aspirations alive.
“There, however, needs to be a gamble taken by the major organisations. If they are serious, they need to engage with their audience differently. It needs a change in mindset.”
Issues of under-representation, identity and social exclusion were discussed at Fans for Diversity, which saw supporters’ groups and grassroots campaigners come together for the newly established campaign.
Anwar Uddin, the former footballer who is now the Football Supporters federation diversity and campaigns manager in a dual role held with Kick It Out, spoke about the power of football to tackle exclusion and the need to have discussions around these issues.
“With the work that we try to do with Fans for Diversity, we bring together all the stories from fans all over the country so we can share and learn from one another,” said Uddin. “We do this because we all love the game.
“However, we all acknowledge that we need to carry on the work that the clubs have done in trying to make safe and welcoming environments for fans from all walks of life.”
He added: “There, however, are many forms of discrimination, not just racism, and clubs need to acknowledge that they need to tackle these too.”
Greater fan representation on the boards of football clubs was suggested under recent Labour proposals if they won next year’s general election. They would then have a bigger voice on issues such as club ownership and ticket prices.
Billy Grant, music producer and grassroots football campaigner, added: “The fans are the people that can make the real difference and empowering fans is one of the ways that they can feel closer to the game.
“Clubs sometimes take liberties with supporters and this needs to stop. They need to continue to reach out to their communities and stop sidelining fans.”
Meanwhile, an event last week run by Football Beyond Borders (FBB) and hosted by Amnesty International saw an esteemed panel speak about their experiences in football. This included current footballer Joey Barton, Britain’s first black football agent Sky Andrew, writer David Goldblatt and researcher and academic Carrie Dunn.
Barton shared his views on the power of football. “Football is a game played by billions, from all parts of the world,” the Queens Park Rangers player told the audience. “It doesn’t matter where you are from or what language you speak, everyone understands football. it can break down so many barriers.” The midfielder also spoke about his tough upbringing in Liverpool and how football rescued him from a life the wrong side of the tracks.
FBB founder Jasper Kain added: “The Football For All event highlighted the power of football to transform people’s lives.
“To hear Joey Barton speak so candidly about some of the challenges that he faced growing up and how football provided a tool for personal development, understanding and acceptance was extremely powerful.
“He spoke directly to the FBB youth participants in the room who were attending the premiere of a film about their youth football tour to Scotland and all were left inspired by the message.”