At a press conference on Tuesday 12 November, Kick It Out unveiled its new Chair, Sanjay Bhandari, as he delivered a speech setting out his and Kick It Out’s vision for equality in football in the years ahead.

Below is the speech in full.


Introduction

I am honoured and delighted to be the first new Chair of Kick It Out for 26 years and to have this first opportunity to talk to you about my vision for its future. When a new leader comes into any organisation, it creates a natural opportunity to pause, reflect on the past and refresh for the future. My primary focus is the future but if you would indulge me for a moment, I want to pause and reflect briefly on where we have come from.

Reflecting on the past

As I reflect on the past, my first honour as Chair is to thank our founding pioneers. Lord Ouseley had a vision and a determination to take action, and he was strongly supported in particular by David Dein, David Davies, Paul Elliott and the PFA (notably Gordon Taylor and Garth Crooks). It is my honour to thank all of them for their pioneering spirit, along with the many staff, volunteers and members of the public who have led the fight against discrimination in football over the last quarter of a century; their place in the history of football is assured. I am lucky to be standing on the shoulders of giants.

With today’s society appearing increasingly divided, it can be very easy to forget how far we have come and the progress we have made. On a personal level, when I first started following my team home and away 30+ years ago, I did not see so many faces like mine in the crowd.

I remember vividly that in the space of 4 weeks in the mid-90s, I was abused as a “Paki” twice at Wembley Stadium, once when following my club and once when supporting England.  In those days, I was expected to just accept it as part of the game. This still happens to me today but never with that frequency of 20-30 years ago.

Just as Ian Wright recently observed the change in attitude of this new generation of England players, I observe that same change in the new generation of football fans. When I take my nephews to away games, they do not expect to have to tolerate the kind of abuse I experienced routinely.  This generation, the Kick It Out Generation, expects better.

As the world and football has changed over the last 26 years, so has Kick It Out. What started as a campaign focused on tackling the scourge of racism in football evolved into an organisation campaigning against all forms of discrimination. Today, those campaigning activities are combined with delivering advice, training and other services as a partner to the football industry.

Every day, we are striving to broaden supporter bases by working with fans across the country through the Fans For Diversity campaign. Our Grassroots Activity Fund and Club Equality Charter scheme supports more and more clubs and volunteers in the grassroots game. And our mentoring and careers programme, Raise Your Game, has connected with over 2,000 diverse, young people wanting to join the football industry.

When Lord Ouseley and our founders set out, they faced resistance and their challenge was to get the football industry to engage and change. English football is now completely different. The Premier League and EFL have equality standards for clubs which can trace their origins to Kick It Out. Governing bodies and clubs have diversity and inclusion strategies and activities. And they are supported not just by Kick It Out but by a vast and thriving ecosystem of partners: Show Racism the Red Card, Stonewall, Level Playing Field, Pride in Football, Community Security Trust, BCOMS, The Football Supporters’ Association and so many more.

Refreshing for the Future

We turn to the future with a refreshed and diverse Board. The Board has 4 new Trustees including myself. The other new trustees are:

  • Chris Paouros: Chris is co-chair of Proud Lilywhites, Tottenham Hotspur’s LGBT+ Supporters Group. She is also a business consultant and an independent member of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board.
  • Cindy Butts: Cindy has spent her career in law enforcement and the justice system. Cindy was a Commissioner at the Independent Police Complaints Commission for over 5 years. Cindy holds a number of Board level positions including being a Commissioner at the Criminal Cases Review Commission and a Lay Member of the Speaker’s Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
  • Kevin Miles: Kevin is Chief Executive of The Football Supporters’ Association. He was formerly Chair of Show Racism the Red Card and is a long-time anti-racism campaigner.

They join our existing trustee team of Katherine Allen, John Nagle, James MacDougall and Iffy Onuora. It is a diverse, passionate and enthusiastic Board.

Reaching Out to the Football Community

So, what is the future for Kick It Out? The world has changed. Football has changed. Kick It Out has changed.

The good news is that, together, we have lit a fire. The bad news is that we have lit a fire. The biggest challenge that Kick It Out faces today is seeking to cope with the huge demand for help and support from a highly engaged and demanding football family. We are a small team of 18 fiercely committed and passionate staff trying to serve the entire football industry.  That is not sustainable. We cannot attempt to solve these vast problems alone. What can we deliver? What can we support? What does the football community need from Kick It Out?

I will be personally leading a Strategic Review to establish the answers to those questions. All of the staff and Trustees of Kick It Out will be involved in that review.

But we will not find those answers just from looking inside. We need to look outside.

I will be reaching out to the entire football community: The FA, Premier League, the EFL, PFA, the LMA, the FSA, clubs from across all leagues, non-league, grassroots, charities, business partners, fans, players, club Chairs, CEOs, boards, diversity leaders, coaches, stewards, academy staff, club foundation charities, journalists. You are all experts and you all have views. I want to hear them.

That includes people who are critical of Kick It Out. I will learn just as much from our most ardent critics as from our most loyal advocates.

If you think we are doing a bad job, tell me. If you think you know what we should be doing, tell me. I want to hear from you.  If you had a blank sheet of paper and were to set up something like Kick It Out from scratch today, what would you do? Where would you focus?

I will be conducting a personal 3 month listening tour and will try to meet as many people as possible. I anticipate completing over 150 meetings personally before the end of January. I am delighted that EY has agreed to provide pro bono support for this exercise. If anyone would like to share their views, send me an email at [email protected]. If you get in touch, I cannot guarantee I will respond to each idea, but it will all be taken into account.

I do not have one single vision for the future of Kick It Out. I see many fantastic possibilities and alternatives, but we will be led by what the football community needs.

I do not want to second guess the outcome of the strategic review, but feel I can confidently make three key observations:

First, Players and fans are the most important people in football. And they always will be. Without players and fans there is no football. As a fan who goes to games most weeks, I understand the importance of the people sat next to me in the stand, and the people on the pitch who we’re here to support. So players and fans will be at the heart of what we do.

Second, the biggest obstacle to success will be silo mentality and vested interest. Football is a sprawling, extended and sometimes dysfunctional family. We need to collaborate more. I hope that Kick It Out can become the galvanising force to bring the football family together to focus on solutions.

Third, to create those solutions, we will need to build more robust and connected data and technology strategies around discrimination, diversity and inclusion across the entire football industry. Data is likely to be a cornerstone of our future.

The Current State of Play

That spirit of collaboration will be crucial as we challenge the current rise in reports of racist and discriminatory incidents across football. Over the last 30-40 years, there has been significant progress. Undoubtedly, the level of overt and abusive discrimination in English football, as in society, is not as prevalent as it was in the 1970s and 80s. But in the last few years, we have seen a definite spike in reported incidents which again reflects society at large. We do not have robust and comprehensive data to prove this for a fact, but we know it to be true.

We need to work together to create more  robust and comprehensive data on discrimination, diversity and inclusion reporting in football. Currently, that data is fragmented across clubs, governing bodies, law enforcement and charities. Nobody has a complete picture. As an example, just take Kick It Out’s own data published this year. This showed an increase of 46% in reported incidents in the professional game.

But another way of looking at the raw data is that any individual fan would only witness a discriminatory incident at a Premier League game once in 3,000 games – which would mean I could follow my team home and away and only witness an incident every 78 years. Clearly, that’s not the case and there is a massive hole in the data that football uses.

When it comes to solutions for the current rise in discrimination: I don’t have the immediate answer. This is a societal problem, not just a football problem. But football has a unique ability to influence social attitudes and can effect positive social change. What I believe is that, for football, the answers will lie in collaborating and diving into the detail where the devil resides.

As an industry, we may need to tone down the finger jabbing and proffering of silver bullets. There are none. We need to get people around a table and focus on the current mechanisms we have to prevent, detect and react to incidents. We need to assess where we can make swift, effective interventions and where change may take more time. I would therefore invite the key leaders of The FA, Premier League, EFL, the PFA and FSA to participate in such a conversation with urgency. We are happy to convene and coordinate that conversation.

With goodwill and collaboration, we can make strides in this battle – as we have done before in this and other battles. We should enlist the support of veterans of previous fights and we may need to try out old techniques on a new generation. In the meantime, we need to cut out the friendly fire. Our focus should be on uniting the industry behind a common strategy to kick discrimination out of the game.

What will success look like?

I will not be in this role forever. I am a custodian and my job is to leave Kick It Out and football in a stronger position. What will success look like in 3,5 or 7 years when it is someone else’s turn to take Kick It Out to the next level?

I want to see a game where:

  • A black player can play in any stadium and be confident that he will not be abused
  • A professional player can take their same sex partner to an end of season club awards ceremony without making headlines because it is not “news”.
  • Supporters wearing a hijab, kippah or turban can attend a game without receiving stares or abuse.
  • Disabled supporters can access every stadium in the country and have regular opportunities to play the game too.
  • A young girl aspiring to be a pro footballer, manager or ref has the same opportunity to realise that dream as her brother.
  • The boardroom is as diverse as the town or city that the club represents.
  • Aspiring Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic coaches are confident they will get the same opportunities as their white counterparts

Finally, on a very personal level, I hope to see something I have been waiting for all of my life: an Asian heritage footballer playing for the England men’s team. Hamza Choudhury – 3 million of us are all rooting for you!

Football has a unique power to bring people together. We need to come together as a football community to harness that cohesive power. And I believe that Kick It Out has a pivotal role to play in that in the years ahead.