Graham Kelly: No room for complacency in tackling racism in football

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The Independent Football

The reports published last week by the Independent Football Commission and the All-Party Football Group of MPs both returned a "could do better" verdict on the Football Association and its ruling council.

The IFC, the supervisory body set up by the government to oversee customer service in football, examined the work of the FA's Financial Advisory Unit, which to date has reported on over 200 clubs and county associations since it was established three years ago. The real problem is, it has not ventured into any Premier League club yet.

The IFC firmly suggested that the Premier League could not exclude itself from scrutiny by the FA, but the irony that the FA's own finances have been in some difficulty lends to a lack of credibility. "The FA's FAU is poorly placed to convince anyone that it can contribute to better financial management in the Premier League," comments the IFC.

The IFC foresees a role for the FAU in carrying out the forthcoming Uefa financial licensing for Premiership clubs qualifying for European competitions, which is due to be phased in with effect from next season. Perhaps the IFC was too harsh in its strictures, as the first act of the FA's new chief executive, Mark Palios, last year was to abandon plans to raise £130m via a long-term bond, as he felt it was dangerous and inappropriate for a business with a cash-rich culture.

He appears to have put the business of the governing body back on an even keel for his board of directors, but it was the composition of the council that attracted criticism in both reports.

The board, comprising six representatives of the national game (or grass roots), six from the Football League and Premier League, the chairman and chief executive, was set up in a restructuring exercise led by the current chairman, Geoff Thompson, in 1999 - despite frequent assumptions that Palios's modernising, marketing predecessor, Adam Crozier, was responsible for all the changes at the FA. But the council, with its ever-proliferating committees, remained.

As the IFC pointed out, election to the council comes about largely as a reward for 40 years' hard work in the counties. Thus the council is overwhelmingly male and white. "The FA council need to become more representative of modern Britain by the inclusion of more women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities," said the MPs, apparently overlooking players, supporters and referees.

It is little wonder, then, that despite having made progress on racism, which shows up certain foreign stadiums as barbaric, our game can still be portrayed as archaic and institutionally racist within the definition of the Macpherson Report: "The collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.

"It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people."

The IFC called for radical restructuring of the council and its committees with co-options and appointments from ethnic minorities to six committees and three places on the council, and to the Premier League and Football League boards in 2004. As the report concluded, football achieved a great deal, notably the integration of black players and successful spectator education. But there was no room for complacency.

It pointed out that most of the steps taken to eliminate racism from the game had been directed towards spectators. Success was measured by the incidence of trouble in the crowd; the loudest threats and the steepest penalties, e.g. withdrawal of a season ticket, were directed at supporters. The tactics had been effective, and must continue if the results were to be sustained.

But was this the only part of the game that merited such a profile and attention? Was the larger football environment, in fact, being overlooked? Where were the Asian supporters in Asian communities? Why weren't greater efforts made to encourage them to come to matches? Where were the Asian stars? Why were there so few black faces in the dug-out?

Too little was being delivered. And too slowly. The Premier League and the Football League should combine with the FA to show unity of purpose and take incisive action in 2004 that would deliver radical and demonstrable change towards racial integration. An upcoming Commission for Racial Equality survey will provide further detailed information as to what is required.

The FA has developed the rudiments of some excellent ethics, corporate governance and compliance policies. But the game's leading authorities have demonstrated far too little collective resolve about who should be delivering on those policies. Despite the drawbacks of co-option and intervention by the CRE, there must be some tangible results that can be measured by the end of 2004.