A first step in tackling institutional discrimination

UEFA joined FARE and other football bodies for a seminar in Amsterdam that set out for the first time the problem of institutional discrimination in football and looked at future solutions.

UEFA first vice-president, Şenes Erzik, addresses the seminar on institutional discrimination in football
UEFA first vice-president, Şenes Erzik, addresses the seminar on institutional discrimination in football ©KNVB

First steps have been taken to tackle institutional discrimination in football. A seminar in Amsterdam, organised by UEFA, the Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB), the English Football Association (FA) and the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network has examined the issue.

The gathering was a first, as UEFA vice-president Şenes Erzik explained to delegates. "It is the first time that UEFA or any other football governing body has set out a problem that so far has been unnoticed," he said. "It takes some courage or bravery to do things that never have been done before. Exclusion in parts of our sport is an important issue – especially in the administrative and management sectors."

Dr Steven Bradbury – senior research associate at the Institute of Youth Sport, within the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences at Loughborough University – presented a research report on representation in European football among minorities. He showed that institutional discrimination, among other things, is a collective failure of an organisation at all levels – intentionally or unintentionally – to provide an appropriate service to people because of their ethnic, cultural or religious background or their gender.

One of the issues raised with respect to institutional discrimination was the low level of women's coaches in the professional and amateur game in Europe, as well as the low number of women in senior administrative positions at men's professional clubs, as well in football governance.

However, there were positive examples to report. In Norway, this matter had been dealt with by a quota system from 1985, whereby at least one woman would have to be on each of the central committees. This led to 40% women's representation, and, in 1996, Karen Espelund became the first female vice-president of the Football Association of Norway (NFF) and later general secretary.

"I would never have been able to prove my competence if I had not been part of a quota system," she said. "Of course you have to prove yourself [afterwards], but quotas are extremely important in the first situation."

Another issue is that although 32.7% of all players at the highest levels are 'expatriate migrant' players from Europe, Africa and South America, less than 1% of senior administrators at professional clubs and executive committee members at national and regional federations are from minorities.

Former Olympique de Marseille chairman Pape Diouf paid tribute to the organisers of the Amsterdam seminar. He commented that while a large percentage of players in France are black, very few became coaches or moved into leadership positions after their careers. "It is not a problem of football alone – it is in society," he said. "I was the first black club president in France, and I hope I will not be the last one."

Bryan Roy, a former AFC Ajax and Nottingham Forest FC player and current youth coach at Ajax, reflected on what helped him move on after his career, and underlined the importance of education – "without it being a black or white issue," he said. "For example, Johan Cruyff created his own academy, to make it possible for young sportsmen to receive education and make it easier for them also to participate in the sport after their career. I think education is the key point."

All of the delegates agreed that the Amsterdam gathering represented a first step towards future solutions. "Some things are so easy to change. I call upon the presidents of football associations to stand up and make everybody aware that we can easily change the landscape that we are facing now," said KNVB president and UEFA Executive Committee member Michael van Praag.

"The leaders of associations, whether in football or other sports, can change mind settings, because that is the first thing that will have to change. And I think everyone present here will already look at it differently than they did this morning. I would like to thank the FA, FARE and UEFA and all participants for taking this high-level initiative."