David Conn: Richards in threat to cut anti-racism funding

Premier League chairman fumes at Kick It Out campaign for 'speaking against the FA' in BBC radio discussion
Click to follow

Dave Richards, the chairman of the Premier League and the Football Foundation, told the Football Association that funding of football's anti-racism group, Kick it Out, had been suspended after the campaign's co-ordinator, Piara Power, was deemed to have criticised the FA in a BBC Radio 4 discussion programme. Yet, bizarrely, the Premier League and the Football Foundation, when contacted by The Independent this week, were completely unaware of their own chairman's statements and indeed reported that there had been no official review of funding for Kick It Out, but they had been considering Kick It Out's application for increased funding, which had now been granted.

According to minutes of a meeting of the FA's main board, obtained by The Independent, David Sheepshanks, the Ipswich chairman and FA board member, reported back on the programme, in which he also took part. Richards asked whether Power had "spoken against the FA", and Sheepshanks reported he had. Richards responded with the news that payments from the Premier League and Football Foundation to Kick it Out had been suspended, pending a review of the campaign's "effectiveness and value for money". The FA board then resolved also to undertake a review of Kick It Out.

Sir Herman Ouseley, Kick it Out's chairman and the former chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, told me he had never been informed payments had been suspended or notified of any formal review. "I'm gobsmacked and very disappointed by this news," he said. "I am afraid it smacks of an organisation which, because it funds us, wants to control and censor us, almost as if they have something to hide."

Yet while Sir Herman has fears about censorship, perhaps of greater concern is the remarkable difference between Richards' statement to the FA board and the actual position of the two bodies which he chairs, as outlined to The Independent by their own officials. Spokesmen for the two bodies confirmed this week that neither had ever in fact suspended payments, nor instituted fully-fledged reviews. In fact, both bodies have increased their funding to £110,000 for next year, in line with a development plan submitted by Power, and both lined up to reaffirm their commitment to it. The FA has paid up for the current year, £70,000, and is conducting a review, but also stressed a "continuing commitment" to broaden diversity.

The timing for the revelation of Richards' extraordinary comments is unfortunate; today marks the beginning of an official football anti-racism week, with nationwide activities organised by Kick it Out including leading players wearing anti-racism T-shirts and panel discussions in London and Manchester featuring Manchester United's defender Wes Brown and former black playing legends John Barnes and Viv Anderson. Power describes the week, costing around £100,000, as "an important landmark in the continuing campaign against racism in football".

In the 10 years since Kick it Out was established, Power said great progress has been made, particularly in tackling fans' abuse of black players, which was vile and widespread until relatively recently.

The Radio 4 programme, recorded at Notts County's Meadow Lane on 8 August and broadcast on 30 August, was part of a series, Down with..., which considered prominent institutions, including the European Parliament and the Treasury. Down with the FA, to which I also contributed, covered a range of subjects, most prominently football's financial crisis, with participants including Frank Clark of the League Managers' Association, Bobby Barnes of the Professional Footballers' Association, senior figures from women's football, the agent Rachel Anderson, academics and journalists.

In his brief contribution, Power said the FA faced a challenge beyond tackling fans' misbehaviour, referring to three areas: the ethnic make-up of the FA itself, which has no black people in senior executive positions, racism in grass-roots football, and the prejudice of many England fans. He placed his comments in the context of the revolution in attitudes which followed the MacPherson Report into the Metropolitan Police four years ago, which identified the phenomenon of institutional racism.

"I'm making my criticism," he said, "in relation to progress we've made in other areas of life; increasingly in corporate life and public institutions. Some of those public institutions have had to face some very, very difficult criticisms."

The minutes of the FA's subsequent board meeting, on 19 August at the FA's headquarters in Soho Square, record Sheepshanks giving his account of the programme, to which, the minutes say, "he had contributed in support of the FA". Sheepshanks reported that the programme's "motion" for a government football regulator - in fact that view was voiced by only one participant, the journalist Tom Bower - "had to a large part been lost."

The minutes then go on: "Mr D Richards asked whether Mr Piara Power of Kick It Out had spoken against the FA. Mr D Sheepshanks reported that he had. Mr Richards reported that both the Football Foundation and the FA Premier League had suspended payments to Kick It Out pending a review of its effectiveness and value for money. The Board [of the FA] reconfirmed its commitment to anti-racism initiatives, but agreed that value for money was important and that a review should be undertaken of the role of Kick It Out."

The minutes highlight the many hats worn by football's heads in the Soho Square boardroom. Richards, the former chairman of Sheffield Wednesday, now in the Second Division, was there as a main board member of the FA, and he also chairs the Premier League and the Football Foundation. All three bodies fund Kick It Out, together with the Professional Footballers' Association.

Sir Herman said Kick It Out had not been notified of any formal review, either by the Football Foundation or the FA Premier League. The FA has notified Kick It Out that it is conducting a review, but only as part of an overall review of all its activities, instigated by the new chief executive, Mark Palios.

Sir Herman was also unaware that any payments had been suspended. He said he was deeply disappointed with the attitude revealed by the minutes: "We are in the business of saying that more needs to be done to kick racism out of football, and our funders are part of us, part of the process. If we say things which are deemed to be critical, it is only to promote the common purpose of kicking racism out of football."

Power said he would welcome a thorough review of the organisation, whose £300,000 this year will fund five staff, offices in Shoreditch, East London, and all its campaigns. "We believe we are effective and give value for money." But he too had been unaware of any review by any of the football bodies or of payments having been suspended.

"We were invited to contribute to a sensible discussion on a Radio 4 programme. We would be failing if we did not address the difficult questions football faces in relation to racism. I make my comments in the spirit of constructive criticism, and we expect to be listened to in a mature manner."

He said that the game had made great strides in stamping out racist behaviour by fans, and that generally England has garnered a good reputation for anti-racism work. Three Premiership clubs, Leicester City, Blackburn and Leeds, have signed up to the new Race Equality Standard, by which they state their dedication to anti-racism, including working towards ethnic diversity in their own playing and non-playing staff, youth academies, and throughout their clubs.

"None of this progress would be happening," said Power, "if we hadn't started on the journey of tackling the most ugly and overt racism in the game." However, he said "massive issues" remain to be tackled, including the paucity of Asian players, black managers and referees. The Premier League's own figures put the current proportion of black or Asian fans at their clubs' matches at just one per cent - a sea of white faces in grounds often sited within predominantly black and Asian areas.

A survey by Leicester University's Sir Norman Chester Centre two years ago found only two non-white employees employed at England's professional clubs in middle management or above. The FA itself said this week that 10 per cent of its employees are non-white, but the most senior is Hope Powell, the England women's team coach. At the grass roots, nasty prejudice remains an entrenched problem. Next week a Radio 5 programme, produced by the investigative reporter Chris Green, will highlight incidents of verbal and physical racist abuse even in youth football. Black people involved in running clubs accuse the FA of failing to monitor or address the problem of racism, and say that black faces are never seen on the FA's local disciplinary committees.

Via the Premier League press office Dave Richards conceded that payments to Kick It Out had not been suspended but said that what he had been referring to was that the Foundation and the Premier League, both of which he chairs, were considering Kick It Out's application for increased funding, which was subsequently granted.

The cast list for the FA meeting at which Richards harrumphed about Kick It Out's funding tells its own story. Present were the 12 members of the FA's main board, plus Geoff Thompson, the FA chairman, Mark Palios, and Nic Coward, the FA's company secretary. Fifteen men, mostly fifty or sixty-something, and all white.

Comments