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To change a deep rooted culture - Sport Executive

To change a deep rooted culture

Lord Herman Ouseley, Chair of Kick It Out, tells us about his concern about the rise in both hate crimes and incidents, the underlying problem of prejudice, and the vulnerability of football as extreme groups and individuals try to regain ground they previously occupied. Football cannot win the battle without external help involving the rest of society, similarly engaged, particularly through education.

To change a deep rooted culture
Photo: All Over Press

When the legendary football manager, Bill Shankly, referred to football being more important to the followers of the game than the harsh realities of life and death, he was merely highlighting the manic tribalism and emotional capital invested in the game by the fanatical supporters. Such passion and fervour has an upside in its commitment to club loyalty but can be disadvantageous when its excesses get out of hand as it did at times over the following six decades. In that time, football’s traumas have included the disasters and human tragedies such as occurred at Heysel, Bradford and Hillsborough, corruption scandals, especially involving FIFA, violence and racial harassment at matches, the contrasting resources between those in the Premier League and those clubs at the bottom of the pyramid, the wildly different experiences of foreign ownership of professional clubs and the endemic discrimination and exclusion prevalent in the sport at all levels.


Football has been slow in generating meaningful action to change its deep rooted culture, especially with action necessary to deal effectively with unacceptable behaviour and attitudes. It has maintained a position of denial for much of the time when challenged about racism, sexism and homophobia. It has only, in recent years, shown signs of getting realistic in its attempts to deal with the discrimination and exclusion which blights its image, and has become conscious of how poorly it is judged on equality and fair treatment objectives and achievements. Overall there is still today an over-riding perception and peddled view, that football reflects the good, bad and ugly that exists in the wider society and the issues of diversity, inequalities, and deprivation have to be addressed by the wider society for real change to be visible in the “beautiful game”. While that has a resonance of the challenge we all have to face up to as members of the society, football cannot afford to let slip the moderate progress made in recent years to make the game truly inclusive, diverse and free from discrimination and harassment. The moderate progress made to date must not feed a complacency that will allow extremism, hatred and nastiness to re-enter the game, which will happen if there is any easing up of action to create equality, diversity and inclusion.

Football on the front line

Kick It Out, football’s independent, charitable equality and diversity organisation, has positioned itself in the front line to tackle discrimination and exclusion in football.  But that is largely because football is already on the front line, having to cope with the behaviour of football fans, players, administrators and officials. It works within football, serves all interests across the entirety of the game at all levels and works totally for the benefit of the game, in collaboration and partnership with all other bodies and agencies. It also works with community and voluntary organisations with similar objectives in tackling inequalities, prejudice and discrimination.
One of the main obstacles to achieving community and social cohesion in the United Kingdom is the trend towards hate-related incidents, including hate crimes.  This is not a new phenomenon.  But is adequate action being taken by the different authorities to counter this trend across the whole of society? How does its manifestation feature within professional and grassroots football? And is the explosion of social media activities both a help in identifying the extent of hate-based communications, as well as being detrimental to the well-being of those who are being vilified and abused?
There is a fundamental issue of prejudice infecting our society now, evidenced through the use of modern, instant communications with people exercising their rights to freedom of expression but using this to insult others without care or any sense of responsibility about the consequences.


Each one of us has our individual prejudices which we keep largely private and, in most cases, we work hard to avoid discriminatory treatment and the abuse of others. However, there are too many who use their prejudices to show intolerance or even hatred towards people they do not like. Sometimes their actions amount to hate crimes, which can result in criminal proceedings but, more often than not, they lead to hurt feelings and discriminatory treatment, arousing fear and terror for the victims and disrupting social cohesion and harmonious community relations.

Domestic terrorism

Our prejudices are learnt and acquired early in life from those who influence us with their own attitudes and opinions. They include parents, families, friends and educators as well as public pronouncements and commentaries. Prejudice and bias become potent when intensified with misinformation and ignorance which can lead to hatred driven by xenophobia, racism, sexism, antisemitism and homophobia. Additionally, there is intolerance and abuse shown towards disabled and elderly people and on the grounds of religion or belief.
During the latter part of the last century we witnessed and experienced widespread instances of “Paki bashing”, and some minority ethnic groups of people living in fear of “domestic terrorism”, in the form of racist attacks and harassment in many parts of the United Kingdom.  Domestic violence was as awful then as it is today, with women and children being the most adversely affected. Nowadays, domestic and “modern day slavery” have added the dimensions of greed, exploitation and hatred to the atrocities inflicted on fellow human beings.


At that time, the police and the rest of the criminal justice system were regarded as impotent in curbing the worst excesses of such atrocities.  In more recent times, however, legislation and greater police awareness and sensitivity have led to prosecutions and convictions.  But in spite of such positive developments, continuing prejudiced attitudes fuelled by bigotry, ignorance and misinformation, are leading to stereotyping and the demonization of some groups of people.  The harsh reality is that perpetrators of hate-related incidents and hate crimes feel empowered to do as they wish, particularly when they believe they will get away with it.  They must be challenged and punished or helped to change their attitudes and behaviour.
In 2013, there were 44,480 recorded hate crimes across the country, with the vast majority being race related. However, the crime survey for 2013/14 suggests that fewer than one in six hate crimes is reported across all discriminatory sectors, with the true figure being around 300,000, on average more than 800 a day. Statistics for 2015 show that reports of violence, property damage, abuse and threats against the Jewish community have more than doubled over the course of 12 months, with the Community Security Trust (CST) revealing that there were 1,168 antisemitic incidents – the highest level in 30 years of monitoring.
In 2014, many police forces were reporting violent hate crimes towards the LGBT community, clearly surpassing the number for the previous year. Crown Prosecution Service data shows over 4,000 incidents of disability abuse since 2007. Muslims across the United Kingdom are consistently the target of hate crimes with clear spikes in the number of incidents following high-profile terrorist attacks in different parts of the world.

Increase of 38 per cent

Kick It Out has been gathering evidence of discriminatory incidents in football over the past two decades and recently introduced a highly successful reporting app to enable people to register complaints in a speedy and confidential manner.  Its collaborative work with all the agencies and authorities associated with football, at all levels, has been helping to tackle unacceptable behaviour and discriminatory conduct.
Kick It Out’s 2014/15 end of season data reveals that 393 reported discriminatory incidents were handled by the organisation, an increase of 38 percent over the previous year; 180 of these were in the professional game with the rest at the grassroots and on social media platforms. Between 2012/13 and 2014/15 there has been a 647 per cent increase in reported incidents to Kick It Out via social media. The majority of incidents are about racial abuse, 57  per cent, 17 per cent were antisemitic and 13 per cent related to sexual orientation.


Increasing levels of hate crimes and incidents point to a rise in people’s confidence to report these but also a rise in tensions and extremism. Football is trying to get to grips with this but more concerted efforts are needed from all political, religious, community, social, corporate and community leaders to help counter this phenomenon from taking even stronger roots in our diverse communities.

Education is the key

Education is the key to countering the worst effects of prejudice. Education programmes can help to change negative, hate related and discriminatory attitudes and behaviour of those people who are inclined to use their prejudices in detrimental ways towards others and education and training have the capacity to engender positive attitudes and open minds, particularly among young people.
Much of our daily news coverage contains controversial headlines that point to increasing intolerance and community tensions. Most recently the focus has been anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-eastern European, anti-poor, anti-rich, radicalisation and much more. News coverage is vital to keep us informed but inflammatory headlines often do not reflect the truth or the whole picture.  Yet this can influence fertile minds, many of which may already be filled with bias, ignorance and bigotry.


Prejudice should be prioritised for action to counter its harmful effects; this will require leadership action from all influencers of opinion and attitudes as well as substantial and meaningful consideration for inclusion in policy development and implementation. Similarly, formal and public education should proactively tackle prejudice, bias, and bigotry as part of teaching, learning and news output programmes for a modern, diverse 21st Century Britain.
Without such concerted action, all those people already actively involved in tackling individual and group prejudices will continue to experience difficulty in meeting the challenges posed by this growing phenomenon.
Getting standards of individual conduct better regulated has made an impact and will continue to have the desired effects.  However, no matter how much football does to address the fundamentals of this problem, and it is trying to do so, the wider effects of what is going on in society with regard to inequality, prejudice and hatred will require leadership from central and local government, corporate organisations, charities, faith based and community organisations on a proportionate and practicable scale, which will bring undoubted benefits for our increasingly diverse population.

More to be done

Football authorities and agencies, including Kick It Out, are doing what they can within their regulatory frameworks and through working in partnership with the police, clubs and fans groups, all promoting standards of conduct, but there is still more to be done. Those in leadership positions must commit to action aimed at ensuring that everybody can live without the fear of harassment, abuse and violence. It is known that hate crimes are under-reported. A more concerted effort must be directed at developing a better understanding of the support and guidance required of and available to victims to ensure they have the confidence to come forward to report incidents. Above all, there is a need for a substantial commitment to and investment in time and resources including through formal and public education to help prevent hate crimes being committed in the first place. Kick It Out intends to be in the forefront of educating and informing within football and urges others to take up the challenge to do likewise, both for the benefit of football and for the whole of the United Kingdom.




This article is by Lord Herman Ouseley.

He is a British parliamentarian who has run public authorities, including local councils and is an adviser and reviewer of public service organisations. Lord Ouseley has expertise in equality and diversity issues and is the Chairperson of several charitable organisations as well as being a Patron for dozens of organisations. He has been at the forefront of challenging institutional racism in organisations and is an advocate on behalf of individuals from disadvantaged and deprived backgrounds. Lord Herman Ouseley is chairman of Kick It Out.


Kick It Out is football’s equality and inclusion organisation. Based in Great Britain. Working throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaign for positive change, the organisation is funded by The Football Association (FA), the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the Premier League and the Football League. A small independent charity, the “Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football” campaign was established in 1993 in response to widespread calls from clubs, players and fans to tackle racist attitudes existing within the game. Kick It Out was then established as a body in 1997 as it widened out its objectives to cover all aspects of inequality and exclusion.