The Westminster Chaplain for Sport has welcomed the Government’s move to eradicate racism, discrimination and abuse from football.
The chaplain’s comments come in response to Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, and Sports Minister, Nigel Huddleston, leading a roundtable discussion with current and former players from the Premier League, English Football League (EFL), Women’s Super League (WSL) and Women’s Championship.
The discussion aimed to get the players’ perspective on tackling discrimination and abuse in the game, as part of their series of discussions on the ‘Future of Football’.
Mgr Vladimir Felzmann offered his congratulations to Mr Dowden and Mr Huddleston on leading the roundtable and giving players the chance to share their experiences.
“Finally, discrimination and lack of equality of opportunity are being tackled head on,” he said.
The chaplain pointed out that many of those players who receive such cruel treatment have a great impact on their teammates and clubs and those so-called fans who spout such abuse should consider and honestly discuss how so many top clubs would perform if they were to leave.
“As we saw with drink-driving and rejection of seat-belts, removing prejudice takes time, education, social pressure and serious financial penalties,” he added.
Players who shared their views included Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson and Rinsola Babajide, Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings and Watford’s Troy Deeney, alongside former players including Karen Carney and Anton Ferdinand.
Many of those joining the call shared their powerful experiences of the abuse they or their fellow footballers have faced and the action they would like to see to tackle the problem. The meeting was called by Ministers ahead of them introducing new laws to hold social media companies to account for online harms, and a fan-led review of football governance.
Ministers listened to players talk about their direct experiences of discrimination in the men’s and women’s game and the challenges in reporting and getting help with this. Representatives from the game also talked about the need to drive forward diversity in leadership in the game and welcomed recent steps taken by clubs to support this.
Ministers in turn shared the plans for changing the law to tackle online harms. The Bill, due to come before Parliament this year, will require tech firms to take action so that what is unacceptable in the street and in stands is also unacceptable online.
The Government is taking soundings from a variety of figures in football, prior to formally launching a fan led governance review, as committed to in the 2019 manifesto which will shape reform of the national game.
Mr Dowden said it was “humbling” to hear players talk about the level of abuse they have faced.
“Their input today has strengthened my resolve to bring in new laws to ensure there is much greater accountability from the social media platforms for dealing with such problems,” he said.
“As we shape the ‘Future of Football’ and look towards our football governance review, we must tackle issues around discrimination and lack of equality of opportunity head on. I am grateful to this group of players for sharing their experiences and expertise to help the Government’s work.”
Liverpool captain Henderson said the meeting was “very important” in giving players the opportunity to share their experiences, so that they can now be addressed.
“I’m pleased that those with power and authority to enact change realise the seriousness of the abuse towards players,” he added.
Aston Villa centre-back Mings also noted that it was a positive step, which he hopes will deliver change.
“I was pleased that the Secretary of State wanted to engage with, and listen to, the thoughts of us as players and ex players. Hopefully this adds context when he attempts to deliver change on behalf of us,” he said.
Paul Elliott, chair of the Football Association’s Inclusion Advisory Board added: “Just like the stakeholders and clubs have shown by signing up to the diversity code the Secretary of State, DCMS and the Government has evidenced genuine appetite and leadership for change.”
Ministers opened the series of discussions on the ‘Future of Football’ in November, bringing together leaders from across football where they discussed financial sustainability and governance, diversity and growing the women’s game. Following the meeting a financial package was agreed between the Premier League and the EFL, and the Government announced funding for National League and women’s football clubs.
Picture: A view of the Kick It Out painted signage on the stadium wall at Stamford Bridge, London.