The English Football Association (FA) has taken a unique approach to tackling the problem of bad behaviour by supporters and players with the creation of Respect FC, a fictional football club aimed at uniting fans against the unpleasant side of football.
The Respect FC website launched in January and is an expansion of the FA's Respect programme, which began in 2007 following concerns about the number of referees being forced out of the game because of abuse from players, as well as the growing problem of over-enthusiastic parents putting too much pressure on young players.
"We're into a third season now and we felt we would benefit from a refresh and a relaunch. That's what Respect FC allows us to do," the FA's Respect programme manager Dermot Collins told UEFA.com. "Respect FC is a place they can go to state their support. We felt the best way to do that was to create a club ethos. It's a way of rallying together people who feel strongly about trying to uphold standards in the game."
The website has received a positive response with almost 7,000 people signing up in the first ten days, while in the same period 45,000 users watched a speech introducing the club from its chairman, comedian Mark Watson.
"It's a grassroots movement of people committed to drive up standards," said Collins. "It provides us with a means of refreshing people's understanding. Some of these people we first approached back in August 2008 and this allows us to go back to them to restate that this is important to the FA and the problems we're trying to deal with are quite deep-rooted. The only way they're going to be dealt with is if we persevere with this over a number of seasons.
"The other key motivation behind Respect FC was the idea of collective responsibility – to turn it into something more participatory. Too often Respect is seen to be the responsibility of the governing body or the referee. Some people just sit back and say 'you change football'. We can do a certain amount but we're only going to have an impact if people throughout the game – players, chairmen, coaches and fans – take their own bit of responsibility to protect the best interests of the game."
For every supporter that joins Respect FC, the FA has pledged to put money back into the grassroots game, with fans even able to vote how they would like this money spent at the end of the 2010/11 season.
Collins said: "Over the three seasons we've been going, we've spent about £3m on promoting the Respect campaign. For every person that joins Respect FC, we've said we'll match it pound for pound, up to around £50,000. We'll reinvest that back into the activities of the club – whether that's providing pitchside barriers in youth football, additional merchandise and so on."
The Respect programme was recognised with a silver award in the category of Best Grassroots Project at the annual UEFA Grassroots Day Awards in 2010 and has continued to go from strength to strength with referee recruitment figures up and improvements in parental behaviour. In addition, in England's senior leagues figures show that the number of cautions for dissent are down in nine out of the top 16 divisions.
For more information on how you can sign up for Respect FC visit www.respectfootballclub.com.
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