Heather Rabbatts debate: Away from the pitch football is still a white bloke's world

How can you take the FA seriously when there are no women on the commission?


Knock me down with a feather; the Football Association commission into the future of English football “lacks diversity”. The commission, set up to examine the lack of opportunity for homegrown talent, has been roundly criticised since it was unveiled by Greg Dyke last week. Loudest and most withering has been Heather Rabbatts, an FA board member who has pointed out that all eight members of the commission named so far have been white and male.

Dyke’s response to date has been that he lost a tug-of-war with the Professional Footballers’ Association for the black footballer Clarke Carlisle because the PFA wanted to hang on to its new chairman. All the other “individuals from the BAME (Black and Ethnic Minority)” decided they were unable to make the “time commitments”. I’m not sure this tells us much more than that the invitees suspected they’d be there only to tick the ethnic minority boxes.

When I started football reporting in 1973, it was White Bloke World, on and off the pitch. Hard to believe now, when every team in the country is so ethnically diverse, but back then you saw a black or ethnic minority player slightly more often than a unicorn. The mindset was that black footballers didn’t like playing in the mud and rain of an English football season. Yes, really.

A magazine sent me to interview Laurie Cunningham and I was told to ask him about his clothes and taste in music because, obviously, he was black and therefore a snappy dresser who liked dancing. Things may have changed now on the pitch, but in management, the next level up, less so. In administration, guess what. It’s still White Bloke World: 1966, Bobby Moore, Alf Ramsey. I have no access to the inner sanctum of the FA but I bet it never occurred to them that the team they were picking for a debate on the future of the game they run might elicit such an all-round chucking of rotten tomatoes.

It’s not just that their thinking is outdated and everyone looks a bit white – apart from Rio Ferdinand, a very last minute inclusion. How can you take this kind of thing seriously when there are no women on the commission? Perhaps they felt appointing the Jamaican-born Rabbatts might have looked like a two-for-the-price-of-one solution to the diversity dilemma. It surprises me that more ethnic minority, gay and female people haven’t taken a battering ram to the closed doors long since.

Promised, well-meaningly, as “urgent”, the FA’s commission will inevitably be the opposite because the people in charge of English football have always moved roughly at the speed of a coelacanth. The only thing it promises to do so far is provide an opportunity for a lot of white blokes to sit around a table. Well, now the world’s moved on without them I suppose they’ve got to have somewhere to go.

Julie Welch is an author and sports writer

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