Kick It Out ‘still fighting for recognition’ 

This week, Chelsea resume their Champions League campaign with a trip to France to play Paris St Germain in the first leg of the first knock-out stage of the competition.

The teams met in similar circumstances in February last year – but that night, the headlines were made by something that happened well away from the pitch at Parc des Princes.

Before the game, a number of Chelsea fans were filmed on the Paris Metro, preventing a black Frenchman, Souleymane Sylla, from boarding a train and chanting “We’re racist, we’re racist and that’s the way we like it.”

A year on from that event, English football’s equality and inclusion organisation, Kick It Out’s education officer Hayley Bennett remembers her “most intense day in the office”.

“Our phones were ringing off the hook from journalists and concerned fans from across the country,” she recalled.

Anger

Bennett feels that the shock element of the incident is what made it such a big story.

“We had to contact Chelsea to establish a plan of action,” she said. “It was really a big incident because people were talking about it for weeks – it dragged on for such a long time because people were so shocked by it.

“Chelsea described the behaviour of the five as ‘abhorrent’ and issued them all with life bans from attending Stamford Bridge”

“There was a lot of anger from people football fans across the country and in the media that this could still be going on. It was important that we spoke to victim to get his side of the story and offer him any support that was needed.”

Five fans identified as having taken part in the incident received punishments from both the courts and the club.

Richard Barklie, Joshua Parsons, William Simpson and Dean Callis were each banned from attending football matches for five years at a hearing at London Stratford’s Magistrates’ Court. Jordan Munday was banned for three years.

Chelsea described the behaviour of the five as ‘abhorrent’ and issued them all with life bans from attending Stamford Bridge or purchasing tickets from the club.

Criticism

This is just one of the many incidents that Kick It Out has had to deal since it was formed in 1993 to tackle racism and discrimination in football.

However, despite the leading role it plays both at home and abroad in this fight, the group still comes in for criticism for ‘not doing more’ .

“I think the problem is that people don’t know what we do on a day-to-day basis,” said Bennett.

“The positive work that we do to increase diversity in football – you don’t really see that in front page news”

“People are aware of Kick It Out as a brand, the campaigns that we do on matchdays or when we put out statements when high-profile incidents happen, but it is very hard to get recognition for the day-to-day work that we do.”

In the past, Kick It Out has come under criticism from ethnic-minority players for a perceived lack of support following racist incidents.

This led to high-profile names such as Rio Ferdinand refusing to wear one of the organisations T-shirts in October 2012.

The-then Manchester United defender believed the group had not taken a strong enough stance in the case involving his brother Anton allegedly being racially abused on the pitch by Chelsea skipper John Terry.

Diversity

Bennett believes the positive work the group does will never be fully understood as it isn’t front page news.

“We go into clubs practically every day to educate staff and players,” she said.

“A lot of people think racism has gone away and that could lead to people being complacent about it”

“We go into communities talking to people in schools, grassroots groups and community centres. The positive work that we do to increase diversity in football – you don’t really see that in front page news, but high-profile incidents of racism will be seen.

“Everybody knows that good news doesn’t really sell and I think people are still unaware of what Kick It Out’s remit is,” she claimed.

“Also, we are only 12 members of staff,” she explained. “We are an independent charity that is funded by football – we are not the FA or the Premier League, we don’t have any power over them, we have to work with them.

Education

“Because of the work that we do, and as a charity that works nationwide, it seems like we are bigger, but we have really limited resources. That understanding of us is really hard to get across, and I don’t think we will ever get the recognition for that.”

“A lot of people think racism has gone away, and that could lead to people being complacent about it”

Despite the continued efforts of Kick It Out, Bennett feels strongly that there is still plenty of work for them to do.

“At grassroots there are so many problems,” she explained. “On social media too, and even in the professional game there are still incidents.

“People at the top need to be able to understand the issues. We need to promote diversity throughout football – not just on the pitch, but in people working across the game too.

“It’s an ongoing thing. A lot of people think racism has gone away, and that could lead to people being complacent about it,” she added. “We’ve educated the last generation of footballs fans and we need to continue doing that. Otherwise, we will keep having the same problems.”

Image courtesy of Kick It Out. For more details about the organisation’s work, click here.

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