Nonetheless my welcome was total. I met the deeply impressive Centre Programme Manager Doreen Thompson - Addo and was welcomed by Sonia with a warm embrace.
|A Life Cut Short|
It was interesting to be in a minority of about 2 white people. The speakers were all black people. The audience was very engaged and eloquent. Their passion grew, or became more apparent, as the evening went on. The desire for change and action to address racism and opportunities for BAME candidates became more evident and vocal.
There was an evident impression that insufficient was being done by the football authorities. There was widespread dismay, even derision, at the FA's handling of the John Terry affair and disgust at the stance of Chelsea FC in permitting Terry to continue to captain the club (I cannot think of a single counter argument). The punishment was woeful and it was incomprehensible that the FA had advanced the proposition that Terry was not inherently racist, but had simply used racist language. For my part I do not understand why the FA felt the need to prosecute the case in this manner. It was a judgement for the Panel to make. It felt to me like appeasement. I think the debate agreed.
Iffy Onuora, former footballer and manager and now of the PFA was on the Panel. he spoke forcefully, but with considerable thought. It was apparent that he had found that his experience of the PFA over the last few months had been overwhelmingly positive. Whilst football generally was considered to be institutionally racist, it was hard to argue against, Iffy found the PFA to be genuinely diverse and inclusive. The PFA were responsible for numerous positive initiatives going forward to address the concerns of minorities and to address issues such as the near absence of black managers (see my post http://gibbsbarrister.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/rooney-rule.html). The debate and consideration of the Rooney Rule for instance has been going on for a long time now, with Paul Davis pushing for it to be adopted over a year ago. Other football bodies have opposed it. Iffy was of the opinion that the PFA had failed to communicate and publicise its activities, perhaps out of modesty, thereby damaging its standing with minorities in particular. The FA on the other hand is demonstrably unrepresentative and its leaders seem disconnected from the wider community. Their slow and laboured response to the Independent Hillsborough Panel Report was another good example of this.
On the other hand I have it on unimpeachable authority that a tremendous amount of work and research is being done on behalf of the League Managers Association and the PFA to address inequality and discrimination within the game. I hope to develop these initiatives in a future post.
There was lengthy discussion about racial abuse, particularly when coming from the terraces. It was evident that more should be done. A lady involved in the stewarding of matches at Wembley told us that the realities of policing large crowds are that they are instructed to turn a deaf ear to racist abuse rather than confronting it. This is football's great dilemma and failing. The seeming unwillingness to confront the scourge of racism means that those from minorities have become embittered and disbelieving of the will of the game to change. It was striking that when considering that the referee is seemingly empowered to take the players off the field if racist abuse occurs, nobody truly believed that this would happen. Indeed at safety briefings before games, which involve referees, captains the Police and other relevant parties, the power of the referee to take the players off the field is not raised. This seems to demonstrate that nobody truly believes that this is an option.
There was a show of hands about the proposal to set up a Black PFA. Peter Herbert, Chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers was present. He has featured prominently in the media in recent days involving himself in several high profiles race related issues. His interventions have not always been welcomed and his motivation has been questioned by some. His stance is that black people need to assert themselves, to be organised and to demand what is rightfully theirs. There was initially considerable reluctance within the room to support a breakaway group, but this changed within the course of the evening. It became apparent that there is frustration within the black community at the failure of prominent players etc to speak out about issues of race and inequality. It was felt that Anton Ferdinand and his family were not shown sufficient public support during the over lengthy course of the Terry Proceedings. What people need is support and organised campaigning from within the black sporting community. The non wearing of Kick It Out t - shirts by certain players was generally supported. It had brought all the issues to the surface and into the public domain, to the point where even Match of the Day was moved to debate them. I got the impression that the black sporting community had remained too respectful for too long. Now was a potential watershed moment.
Iffy Onuora pointed out that whilst the PFA's '6 Point Plan' was released this week and thereby handled in a clumsy fashion, seeming to be a kneejerk reaction to events, in fact the points had been developed after lengthy consideration. Politically the release was perhaps mishandled, but the desire to achieve a more just environment for black players etc was not.
As I boarded the train for the lengthy late night trip back to Leicester my conclusion was that there is considerable hope for a better future. This group is fantastically well equipped to bring about change. A co - ordinated action plan to utilise the available talent and forces is what is required.
I was particularly struck by the expression of sheer pride that the NFL game at Wembley this weekend featured 2 black head coaches. It was pointed out that without the Rooney Rule none of that would have been possible.
It is to be announced shortly that Paul Elliott, ex Chelsea defender, will become the first black Football League Chairman joining Chris Powell (manager) at Charlton in the Championship. Progress!