AUGUST 12, 2018 will represent 25 years of Kick It Out’s existence and activism in challenging racism and discrimination in English football.

We have come a long way from badges, t-shirts, stickers and banners - and having to put up with being third class citizens - to striving for equality, inclusion and cohesion and tackling institutional discrimination across the games as we enter year 26.

From a diversity perspective, these are potentially exciting times in football with greater visibility of Black, mixed race and mixed heritage players on the field of play, although less so in other spheres of the sport. We have struggled to see the breakthrough at the top level of Asian players, who play the sport in large numbers at grassroots level and are progressing in the academies to enthuse optimism for success in the future.

In administration, coaching, management, boardroom membership and technical positions, there is a scarcity of Black, Asian and minority ethnic women and men to be found in key positions. That is not a satisfactory situation. Likewise, there is still a need for better facilities and access to playing and watching opportunities for disabled participants. And while the growth of LGBT supporters’ groups is a sign of positive progress, we have still not created an environment where LGBT fans and players feel completely welcome in football.

The women’s game has seen unprecedented growth in recent years and its stars are increasingly becoming household names and presences on our TV screens. Despite progress, however, football’s gender pay gap still needs to be properly addressed, as does the lack of women in leadership positions within the sport and the unwelcome presence of sexist attitudes in some quarters.

Of course, back in 1993, it was much worse. It was embarrassing - and painful - to watch professional football in the 1970s, 80s and right through the next three decades. Explicit, hate-filled racial abuse and discrimination was rife in football. It can be traced back, over a century ago, to the treatment meted out to the earliest Black professionals, such as Walter Tull and Arthur Wharton.

This intensified during the 1960s, and players such as Clyde Best had to endure unwelcome vilification. That was humiliating because of what was expected of Black players then - put up or shut up! You had to take it, prove yourself and endure the vilification, while the fans had their fun with what they pretended to be innocent banter.

At that time, there were also second generation descendants of the post-war Windrush British settlers, many born in England, who were beginning to make their mark in non-league and grassroots football. They were having to face up to the same sort of disgraceful abuse and violence but were ready to fight back, lead the resistance against unequal treatment, and stand up for their rights.

At the professional level we witnessed the dignity with which players – including John Barnes, Luther Blissett, Viv Anderson, Paul Canoville, Ricky Hill, Cyrille Regis, Laurie Cunningham and Brendon Batson - used their skills and mental strength to demonstrate their talent and competence in ways that would eventually win fans’ acceptance, and ultimately, their acclamation. A few others - such as Bob Hazell, Noel Blake, John Fashanu and Ian Wright - were not prepared to accept abuse and heroically and admiringly made their views known. They gave hope to the next generation that there was a battle to be fought and a war to be won on the field of play and in the stands, boardrooms and on the streets.

Inevitably, as we reflect today on the past, the present and look forward to the future, there is the aggregated toxic context of race, sport and politics to analyse and understand the nature and construct of racism. It cannot be ignored as it is dominant in our society and in other countries around us. Racism is the application of personal prejudices by individuals using their power to discriminate directly, indirectly, ignorantly, subconsciously and detrimentally, if you are the victim.

The fundamental point here is: when making decisions, if you have the power to use your prejudices in detrimental ways, whether it is on the grounds of gender, race, class, sexual orientation, religion or beliefs, age or disability, then you are inevitably - directly or indirectly - creating discriminatory outcomes for some groups. I have always taken the view that people with power, resources and decision-making capacity could end racism and institutional discrimination, if they genuinely and sincerely want to.

Having approached the authorities and clubs during the 1980s and early 1990s and begged them to take action to tackle the outrageous conduct of their football fans and match day staff, I realised I was powerless to persuade them to do so. No-one else appeared to me to be concerned, except those who were being abused, their families and friends, and handfuls of fans in different places.

The opportunity to swoop for change came in 1993 when I was appointed by Her Majesty’s Government to be the Executive Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE). I now had power with executive responsibilities in this law enforcement organisation. There was legitimacy to threaten and invoke lawful action against the authorities and clubs where it was evident racial discrimination was taking place.

I approached all 92 clubs throughout the English Football League (EFL) and the newly-formed Premier League to ask them to join in a campaign to tackle the worst excesses of racial abuse, harassment and violence in football. The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) was quick to join with the CRE and the Football Trust (now the Football Foundation) to co-sponsor the project.

With more than 50 clubs quickly signing up, the campaign was launched on 12 August 1993, with Gordon Taylor (The PFA), Richard Faulkner (Football Trust) and former professional footballers Paul Elliott and John Fashanu. John had already been challenging clubs such as Millwall to take up the challenge against the racists, while Paul was one of the most experienced players who came through every level of the game to succeed at Charlton Athletic, Luton Town, Aston Villa, Pisa in Italy, Celtic in Scotland, and Chelsea where he was captain and represented England. He was also one of the first Black football pundits on television during the coverage of Football Italia and a true role model within the soon-to-be-renamed Kick It Out organisation.

There have been many controversial issues over the years. Kick It Out has had its critics and it has had many plaudits. However, we have never shirked from a challenge and have always been careful how we have fought the battles for equality and justice for all those discriminated in football, from grassroots to elite levels. Undoubtedly, the most oft-heard criticism was that we lost our true independence and radicalism (which we never had) when we agreed to work within the game alongside our partners and core founders: The FA, the Premier League, the EFL and The PFA. We also work closely with the Football Supporters’ Federation and the League Managers Association.

The reality of achieving radical and sustainable organisational change requires intense internal qualitative and sensitive leadership and achievable action programmes and - at the same time - external pressure for change being applied by individuals and groups, including those who have been victims of discrimination and among the usually excluded. Quite simply, there is no other way. It is always helpful to have the backing of the law, provided it is used properly.

The quest to achieve decent and respectful conduct in football was helped with the new incoming government in 1997, which led to the Football Task Force report “Eliminating Racism from Football” and went on to introduce the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999 and subsequent legislation enabling courts to make banning orders and apply sanctions for aggravated offences involving hate discrimination, harassment and abuse.

The FA also came more into its own in applying sanctions for such offences in football and making clear its zero tolerance against all forms of discrimination and abuse. Similarly, the leagues and the clubs moved into line to be seen to be consistent in recognising that change was never going to happen unless they made it happen.

The process of change is slow but is happening. It continues and there is a sense of getting close to the point where all parts of football will realise the benefits of co-ordinated strategic and operational approaches to tackle and eliminate all forms of discrimination as it faces up the challenge to become a successful model to be followed in the pursuit of equality, inclusion and cohesion.

In the area of cohesion, it is becoming clearer how football can be a real force in bringing diverse communities together for the benefit of society. The investment in clubs’ foundations, football in the community schemes, and schools’ projects and programmes are invaluable, particularly at a time of reduced expenditure at local level and with fewer staff and facilities available to young people.

Kick It Out’s current range of activities include providing a clear, independent voice within football to challenge discrimination and campaign for inclusion at all levels of the game. We also deliver education for professional players, clubs, fans, grassroots organisations, students and beyond. Since 2015, we have delivered hundreds of educational workshops to players, staff and parents in the Premier League and EFL Academies.

Through our Raise Your Game series, the organisation has also provided mentoring and guidance to thousands of people from underrepresented groups to participate in football and secure opportunities to develop a career in the game. Our annual national conference in April alone saw 100 mentors giving careers advice to more than 350 people from a diversity of backgrounds.

Kick It Out established an equality standard framework for professional clubs, supporting the development of equality practices and policies. This has since been adopted and developed by the Premier League and is now mandatory for all its clubs, with the EFL following suit with its Code of Practice.

We also act as a third-party reporting bureau, dealing with reports of discrimination relating to football. We have supported thousands of complainants and liaise with the football authorities throughout their investigations, acting as a mediator and providing clarity during what is often a long-winded and complex process. Additionally, our pioneering reporting app, available on Android or iPhone has enabled more effective reporting and investigating of complaints of discriminatory abuse.

And now we look to the future. It is vital Kick It Out continues its current work through being effective, efficient and economic with all our resources and providing value for the game as a whole. We will fully support the newly-agreed initiatives to bring a co-ordinated approach towards equality, inclusion and cohesion across the entirety of the game, and also through the FA’s IAB initiative.

The organisation is also increasing its activity at grassroots level through greater engagement with community-led initiatives and partnership activities. Football still needs greater diversity at the top of the game, where under-representation of certain groups is still common, as well as greater accountability and transparency. We cannot rest on our laurels.

There is still a fight to be fought against racism and discrimination. We will continue to inspire football's leaders to embrace and integrate the goals of equality, inclusion, and cohesion in all their work.