Football 'must level jobs playing field'

Jores Okore of Aston Villa battles for the ball with Didier Drogba of Chelsea Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chelsea, Aston Villa and Arsenal are setting a recruitment example, says Kick It Out

Football has been making great strides in tackling discrimination against players from ethnic minority backgrounds, but there are concerns it has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to other parts of its workforce.

Football boardrooms, as well as executive and administrative posts, remain predominantly white and male, as do most behind-the-scenes roles such as coaching or physiotherapy.

Now charity Kick It Out has called on clubs to alter their recruiting policies, to ensure they give a fair opportunity to people from all backgrounds to be considered for jobs in football.

It is also encouraging a greater representation of women at professional football clubs and institutions.

Apartheid lesson

Kick It Out's chairman, Sir Herman Ouseley - who first set up a project to tackle football racism back in 1993 - says that Chelsea, Aston Villa, and Arsenal are three clubs who are providing an example for others when it comes to implementing equality in the industry.

For Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis there is an added motivation. When he was born in South Africa in 1964 his father was in prison because of his anti-apartheid activities.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis has encouraged diversity at all levels of the club's staffing

Mr Gazidis says the experience has informed his "value set" throughout his life, and that "inclusion and diversity" runs through the core of Arsenal's recruitment policies, and not just for the playing squad.

"What you see on the football pitch is the tip of the iceberg," he says, pointing out that there are hundreds of other people working behind the scenes at football clubs who should also reflect the values of equality.

However, despite the work at Arsenal - which has been awarded the Advanced Level award from Kick It Out for monitoring and promoting equal opportunities - too often football can seem a secretive, cliquey, closed shop.

'Open selection process'

"Football employers and institutions have to make it clear they welcome people from all backgrounds," says Sir Herman.

"Too often organisations don't interview people from these [black and other ethnic minority] backgrounds before they give someone a job. There has to be open and competitive selection processes, not just a club owner or manager appointing his mate.

"Clubs and institutions have to reach out to all parts of their communities and say 'we want your experience, to learn from your background'."

Image copyright Other
Image caption Sir Herman Ouseley says football businesses have a duty to seek out the best talent

Too often positions on football boards and backroom staff are shut off to racial minorities and to women, he said.

"If you are going to foreclose the recruitment options available to you, then you are not doing the best you can as a business," he said.

"Too many jobs in football management and other parts of the industry, such as executive and administrative level, are not advertised. We want to see a more open process. You as a club chairman or owner have to allow yourself the chance to see and consider all the talent that is out there."

But he said appointments should not be made for box-ticking or "politically correct" reasons, as appointments made on that basis were doomed to failure.

"It is about taking responsibility as corporate and social bodies to get the best talent you can," he said. "Football organisations will benefit with different sorts of people, in what is now a global marketplace."


One woman from an ethnic minority who made it into the male-dominated football world is Sangi Patel, who worked as a physiotherapist at two big-name London professional clubs.

After being appointed to the Crystal Palace academy, she worked her way up to become acting lead physio at Queens Park Rangers (QPR) in the Premier League, along the way working with managers such as with Iain Dowie, Peter Taylor, Neil Warnock and Paul Hart.

Image caption Sangi Patel spent nine years working for two major English football clubs

The 32-year-old says that, in her experience, football has a bigger problem dealing with sexism rather than racism when it comes to making backroom appointments.

While the players and managers at both clubs were welcoming, she said she encountered issues in the broader football industry.

"I had a real difficult time with sexism... but never actually racism. I was never targeted that way," she says, adding that when she ran on the pitch to treat a player she would be bombarded with wolf-whistles and catcalls from opposition fans.

She says her outgoing personality, and ability to give as good as she got in the "banter" stakes, meant she was able to stand up for herself in the macho world of football.

"For females I still think it is tough getting into football, in fact I think it is incredibly difficult", she says.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Sangi Patel during her time working at Premier League football club QPR

"Sometimes clubs may think it is easier to appoint a male - it is easier not to have to worry about potential sexism issues, or players feeling they have to watch what they say in front of a woman."

When QPR was relegated in 2013 there was major upheaval at the club and Ms Patel thought it was the best time to make a change. After nine years in football, she now works at Thames Valley Athletics multi-sports centre in Eton, and in a private health clinic in London.

She was a mentor at the recent Kick It Out Raise Your Game conference, held to give males and females of all backgrounds a better understanding of how to access a career within football.

And she has strong advice for other women wanting to carve out a career in the sport.

"Go for it. You are always going to be faced by barriers and rejections, but always have belief in yourself," she says. "And never accept that it is OK for people to say 'you can't do it'."

'Confidence issues'

Student Lekan Odushola, 17, is one of the younger generation who is already planning a football career.

"I want to become a coach, working on player development," he says.

He already coaches part-time at the Kinetic Foundation academy in Croydon.

"Definitely more could be done - football should look to pro-actively bring through more young people of black, Asian, gay backgrounds," he says.

Image caption Student Lekan Odushola says clubs could use social media to explain recruitment

"They might have confidence issues, and be wary about getting involved. [QPR director of football] Les Ferdinand referred recently to covert racism preventing ethnic minorities from getting top jobs in management, which is another worry."

He says clubs and other football organisations could build better awareness about their recruitment processes among young people from minority backgrounds, by making use of social media and by going into schools and colleges.

"Also, backroom jobs in football, such as coaching, should be promoted as desirable careers, not something seen as just a second choice for failed footballers," he adds.

"There needs to be more knowledge given to young people about the wide range of roles available in football."

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