Why is there such disdain for an assumed desire for diversity?

News broke yesterday evening that long term pundits on Sky Sports’ iconic show Soccer Saturday were sacked.

Matt Le Tissier, Charlie Nicholas & Phil Thompson will not be resuming their roles on the weekly show for the upcoming season.

Normally, I can see the kind of outrage this news provoked from a mile off. For example as soon as I saw the Bristol City goalkeeper kits, I knew if I looked in the replies or comments, it would probably cause my blood to boil.

However, I genuinely didn’t see this one coming, I had a look at the replies of the tweet expecting people to simply be a bit upset that the cast they had grown accustom to was being split up. Instead I saw a lot of the following:

“I bet it will be a gay bloke, a black person and a bird who replace them”

“All just to satisfy the PC brigade”

“Incoming three black people forced into those roles”

Black Lives Matter this, LGBT that, derogatory words for women everywhere. It is really upsetting to me that the first reaction to three straight white men losing their jobs, is to take it out on traditionally under represented communities in sports media.

In particular, a few specific up and coming pundits from the BAME community were targeted, with the suggestion that they were ‘unworthy’ to fill the roles. Ian Wright addressed this on his own Twitter page and said it much better than I ever could, so I strongly advise you to go watch his video: https://twitter.com/IanWright0/status/1298690318376853504

As a side note, while searching to find that video and link to you, I discovered that “Ian Wright is a racist” autocompleted when searching for him on Twitter, I clicked on that thinking there is no way people are actually accusing Ian Wright of being racist… oh wait, yes they very much are.

Half the problem, as Ian Wright has said, at this stage it is simply assumed that the desire for diversity is the reason these pundits have been let go and that certain pundits will ‘undeservedly’ gain opportunity from it. For all we know, they could still just fill those seats with another 3 white retired male footballers.

With any long running TV show, the goal is to refresh things BEFORE people get bored of the previous cast or format, and that is exactly what Sky are doing. They are evolving their show before it gets stale.

If the people they bring in to refresh the show also happen to result in a little more variety on our TV screens every Saturday, why would this be such a bad thing?

I studied Sports Journalism at University, and you only have to look at the demographics of my course to see how sports media could perhaps use a little more diversity.

As far as I can remember only 3 people on my course were part of BAME communities, only 1 who is openly LGBTQI+ (that 1 being me) and 1 woman. Do you think that perhaps could be due to the fact when a young person from any one of these communities switches onto the UK’s number 1 sports broadcasters’ most iconic show of a Saturday afternoon, they only see straight white men?

I also know that some people who represent those communities at my University with a particular interest in sports decided to do either Multimedia Journalism, or general Journalism over doing the Sports Journalism course.

As you may have guessed, this is something I am extremely passionate about and I’m already in the early planning process of projects that are directly relate to everything I discussed in this blog.

The last 24 hours have only spurred me on more with these projects, as it has confirmed what I already knew, that change is needed in my industry.

Written by Sam Clarke, FvH Youth Panel Communications Officer

Beatrice Thirkettle: “If we want equality in the game, we need to ensure we are attracting participation from diverse women.”

My memories of playing football as a 13 year old, consist of many long car journeys. I played in the Bedfordshire and Buckingham league (who knows if that was the actual league name, but we certainly drove between those counties enough!) and away matches frequently took an hour to drive to. I probably played on most council and school pitches around Luton and Dunstable in my playing career. Training on a 3G pitch felt like a luxury, especially compared to Saturdays turning up at an uneven grass pitch. 

I contrast this to the current status of the girls’ game in England. I worked for over 2 years as a Football Development Officer for a County Football Association, and had the joy of working with club volunteers who were dedicated to providing a positive playing experience for girls.

I’ll interject here quickly to say that when I was playing, there was no doubt of the commitment of coaches and secretaries to us having the opportunity to play. However girls football is in a far better place now because of the increased opportunities to get involved at a variety of levels.

Girls now have access to more qualified coaches, better facilities, matches which are closer to home (no more 2 hour round trips!), integration within their club with boys teams (it’s great that they are no longer an afterthought).

Club officials were coming to me to share their plans of launching girls teams and what support they would need. I launched a girls club network to share best practice, challenges and identify ways I can best support increased development of girls football. It has been and continues to be an exciting time to be involved with the growth of girls football. There are different initiatives to get girls playing in teams or just recreationally, in an environment that they find safe, fun and inclusive. 

It feels relevant to bring up a conversation I replay in my mind over and over. I was chatting to an age group coordinator at one of our largest clubs. I asked about the development of girls football at the club and what the 5 year plan looked like. He responded that many of their earliest teams are mixed. Ever since the club had introduced girls football and ran sessions at the local schools, girls had fully engaged. Coaches and teachers started to see all genders playing football together in the school playground at lunch and break times.

He said that the boys respected girls as being equal to them when playing and that the girls felt confident about playing with boys. It got me thinking. What will football look like in 10 years time, when we have a generation of boys and girls who started playing at the same age, with access to quality coaching, the best facilities and appropriate playing opportunities. Will there be such a gap in ability between men and women? Will we need to have separate boys and girls teams at the youth levels? 

I’m not proposing getting rid of dedicated girls’ activity. For many girls at the moment, the opportunity to play in a girls only environment is what draws them in and gets them involved in the game. But I would argue that a big part of this is because girls aren’t given so many opportunities to play football as young as boys are.

There are other options that girls might be channeled into. I know I was. So girls might feel apprehensive about joining in with boys who have been playing for many more years than them.

We all feel unconfident about entering an environment where other people have much more experience than we do- we don’t want to risk looking silly at getting things wrong for fear of people laughing at us. But when I am suggesting, is that if girls have opportunities to be playing at the same age as the boys, can we give them more confidence to be able to take on anyone, regardless of gender? Ability, then, will be the critical factor, which can help a player grow. Equality of opportunity at the youngest age is absolutely key to shaping a better future of the game for girls football.

To go back to my playing days, I vividly remember standing on the centre circle, arms linked with my team-mates as we paused before the game for a minute’s silence. It was early, foggy, raining and freezing cold. I remember wondering why I was there. What was it that still drew me to playing football every week, especially as most weeks I got a 5 minute run out at the end. It was the beginning of the end of my participation in playing football.

The manager had his eye on results and I wasn’t really a very good player. Perhaps if I had more confidence on the ball and didn’t panic so much, I might have been ok! I often wonder what kind of a player I would have been, if I played youth football today. But at the time, I knew playing wasn’t how I wanted to be involved in football going forwards. So I started volunteering and then realised there was a whole world of County Football Associations and football development! So that was my next aim.

My place of work had a fairly equal number of male and female employees (although we were all cis individuals) and there was never any question that female football was as important as men’s football. But in other areas of the organisation it was hard to see people who looked like me.

This wasn’t just a problem at my place of work- it is replicated across all County Football Associations, as well as at the FA. Boards and Councils were full of men, of a certain age. When I realised it was possible to have a career in football, I wondered if it would be possible for me. I didn’t see many women in football and assumed that I’d need a huge amount of football knowledge and experience to get a job. 

During my time working as a Football Development Officer, I went to many meetings and conferences where I saw women at all levels within the game. It was positive to see. However the key decision makers right at the top still seem to have a majority of men. In particular at Board level. I really think that we need to be proactively recruiting more women to those top strategic levels who have a voice in the decision making of football’s governing bodies. 

We also need to speak about intersectionality and the lack of diversity within women in the game. Those same conferences I went to, featured many white, cis, able bodied women. I was one of them! I guess I can add queer to my identity list, but I imagine there a quite a few queer women working in football.

If we want equality in the game, we need to ensure we are attracting participation- be that playing, coaching, refereeing, developing, disciplining, decision making etc- from diverse women. That includes diversity of religion and faith, ethnicity, age, disability, socio-economic background, sex characteristics and women who have kids, as well as those who do not.

If we lack an ability to include women who aren’t just white, cis, able bodied women, then we aren’t providing an environment where everyone can participate and we certainly aren’t being inclusive. So football has a lot of work to do to attract a more diverse community of female participants. 

I feel this leads me on to my next point, and something that has been a source of increased frustration for me, with the current climate of transphobia that has gripped this country. I participated in a work football match which was mixed.

We were all adults and all varying abilities. I made a bad tackle and a male colleague fell over as a result. He is a heck of a lot bigger than me and the only reason he fell is because I made a reckless challenge. Because I don’t have good technique. I had many tussles with people during that game and was never hurt. Were some men going easy on me? Absolutely. That is because they had more skill than me, so obviously took pity on me!

The current dialogue raging on social media currently that trans women pose a risk to women is ridiculous. It disappoints me that people think that. It creates gendered stereotypes about height and build, which disregards the natural variance between each of us. I’m taller than some people and weaker than some people. Compared to others, I’m shorter and stronger. We embrace these differences in sports. We wouldn’t want a whole team full of tall women. The variances allow people to excel in different ways and be suited to different roles. 

If we start to police bodies allowed in sport, that impacts us all. Sport then becomes exclusive and that is not one of my values. We cannot have equality if certain bodies are being denied access, especially if that discrimination is being dressed up as “safety concerns”.

I go back to my earlier point- we should be providing a sporting environment which supports people of similar ability playing together. We should also be providing people with good coaching to develop technical skills. If I had received that coaching, then I wouldn’t be at risk of dangerously tackling someone.

This, for me, is the only reason for discussing safety concerns. No one should be put at risk from another person on the pitch because they have not been properly coached and are out of control. But in terms of the variances that occur between us all as women? Great! Let’s embrace those and engage a diversity of women playing on the field- ensuring that under-represented women are included and celebrated.

Written by Beatrice Thirkettle, FvH Youth Panel Coordinator

Samantha Walker: “Proud of myself – I posted an update on my social media… and it really kicked off…”

*Trigger Warning: The following blog contains quotes of transphobia, and references to sexual assault*

Guest Blog written by Samantha Walker, formerly of Soho FC & Bristol Panthers. Twitter: @No7Sammy. Instagram: No7Sammy. Facebook: Samantha Marilyn Walker.

When I was contacted to do this guest blog I was humbled – but also slightly apprehensive. In this piece, I am tasked with both shining a light on the horrific tactics used by trans-exclusionary feminists and anti-trans groups, while also educating on the best way to deal with it, giving hope that things are improving and encourage those who feel alienated within sport because of their gender identity or sexuality. I hope I can achieve this – It is, to be honest, quite the balancing act!

Football was my first love. I have been playing for 25 years on and off, but my interest in it and desire to play never waned – even if for long periods of time I didn’t feel like there was a place for me within the sport. When I first started playing at 5 years old, it was the only thing that consumed my attention and made me forget my problems – and it still serves the same purpose to me now.

Early in my transition, looking very much like a male, I didn’t feel that womens sports would accept me, and I was right. I didn’t meet the FA’s inclusion policy (link here: https://www.thefa.com/news/2016/mar/22/guidance-trans-people-in-football). I tried to join a team, who let me train with them but was made to feel like I shouldn’t be there. I felt dejected. I gave up.

Then, a year later, I heard about a league that was totally sexuality and gender inclusive. If you want to find an LGBT+ friendly club – make use of PrideSports awesome club finder: https://pridesports.org.uk/lgbt-club-finder/

I investigated, and chose to play within the LGBT+ inclusive league that runs here in the UK, it seemed like it was the only place that would accept me. I joined Soho, and later, Bristol and in both places found a space to enjoy the game I loved without prejudice. It wasn’t perfect (I was still the only trans woman playing in matches and got some confused looks) – but my identity was respected and it was the best thing on offer to me at the time.

Fast forward 2 years and in July ’20 I was invited to attend a trial at a high level womens football team. I felt so nervous beforehand. What if people objected or refused to play if I was there?

There were a number of trialists there of varying ages and abilities. The team, at this point, didn’t know I was transgender – but the ladies on the pitch, chairman, manager and first team coach were impressed enough to ask me to sign for the upcoming season. Only 1 other trialist made it through. I was ecstatic, for the first time in my life I was playing football as my authentic self without fear of repercussions.

Proud of myself – I posted an update on my social media… and it really kicked off…

“Isn’t it cheating if you are a man”…

“Too much of a p***y to play against men so you have to dominate women?”…

“Why can’t you just start a trans only league, and stop ruining womens sport”…

“I bet you only want access to the womens spaces so you can rape/abuse ‘real women’ “…

These are, quite frankly, some of the tamer responses I received about being a trans woman in competitive sport, and all I had done was attend a trial! All of these were posted by faceless social media accounts who, when questioned why they wouldn’t attach their face to their beliefs – suggested they would be discriminated against… the irony!

So lets address these objections…

Isn’t it cheating if you are a man”…

YES! If I was a man playing in a womens league, it would most definitely be cheating… but I am not a man… I may have been born with male genitalia – but that doesn’t define my identity as I write this piece. I am a woman, who has transitioned.

I live, walk, talk, act and am perceived as female; the effects of my ‘first puberty’ have been reversed and I do not possess a physical advantage over my team-mates. The inclusion policy is clear – and is rightly judged on a case by case basis. If a trans woman who has met the FA’s inclusion policy is on the pitch with other women – there are exactly ZERO men in that game.

“Too much of a p***y to play against men so you have to dominate women?”…

Well… no! I played in male dominated leagues up until the trial. I was always the ‘odd one out’ in those leagues, oftentimes the only woman on the pitch and at a significant performance disadvantage. I didn’t even consider womens football until womens football considered me!

I am not the fastest, strongest, biggest or heaviest or best player there. The team plays in the 3rd tier of English football, one league below the full professional leagues. Does that sound like dominating to you?!

There is also the ‘safety’ argument. The idea that trans women are more robust and more likely to hurt cis women based on very small deviations in bone and tissue density. However, lets just set aside biology for a moment, and focus on physics. A 5ft woman, weighing 60kg, collides with a 5 ft 10 woman weighing 85kg. Who is more likely to be on the receiving end of the worst of the impact? The smaller one, right? So why are people not advocating for weight classes withing womens football? Because it would be wrong, and exclusionary! The best players in the world are not the biggest, fastest or strongest – they are the ones with great technique.

“Why can’t you just start a trans only league, and stop ruining womens sport”…

This is constantly thrown in as a ‘solution’ – and it is just not feasible. I am quite embedded in the issue of trans women in sport – particularly football – and can honestly say I know of maybe 9 players who openly identify as transgender and who play in womens leagues, at various levels. We make up a tiny percentage of the population: I highly doubt we could get 2 teams together for a match – let alone have a trans-specific league!

Even if we could hypotherically do so, there would be even higher disparity between players. There is a big difference in physicality between someone who is, for instance, not taking hormones – and someone who has transitioned and been on hormones for 5+ years!

“I bet you only want access to the womens spaces so you can rape/abuse ‘real women’ “…

This one is probably the one that hurts the most, but it’s one that really gets down to the basis, and bias, of their argument. For a start – Feminism isn’t misandry. It is standing up for the rights and equal opportunities of all women; and to direct this man-hating attitude towards trans women is just mis-directed misandry. The trans-exclusionary feminists who suggest that every trans woman is just a predatory man looking for an opportunity to invade womens spaces aren’t feminists, and do feminism, women, and human-kind a disservice.

Predatory and abusive men pose a very real risk and I feel truly sorry for whatever these people have gone through for them to feel that this means anyone with male genitalia has the same intentions. The type of man the exclusionary feminists fear, is the same type of man I fear. I am in danger from them too. I have been the victim of, what I fear, were the same horrific experiences.

But this is the real problem; the argument over trans people in sport is often reduced to a comparison between cis men, and cis women. Which is like trying to compare an apple and a carrot to ascertain whether or not a tomato is a fruit; and we all know that tomato’s are fruits! An odd metaphor – but hopefully you follow its meaning!

My club (which will remain nameless until I make my official debut to avoid affecting pre-season preparations) and my team-mates have been fantastic. I have played in 2 pre-season friendlies, scoring in one and hope to make my full debut soon, which I believe will make me the first openly trans woman to play at that level. Each time I step onto the pitch with other women I feel an intense euphoria. I am where I am supposed to be.

There are 2 options with how we deal with the way trans people are targeted. We can either block and avoid the conversations and rhetoric being pushed or we confront it with robust, rational and logical arguments. I personally choose the latter because I feel I have a responsibility to prove them wrong and to educate the middle ground.

However, it should not fall solely on trans people to justify their existence and participation in sport. It should fall on the shoulders of a sports governing body to enforce and educate, on team-mates and clubs to promote inclusion, and also on those who have no direct benefit from the outcome.

Allies need to stand with us, ideally in front of us – but definitely not just quietly behind us. 

If you would like to learn more about my journey – please check out www.SammyWalker.co.uk

Want to provide better trans inclusion at your club? See our Football v Transphobia campaign for more information: https://www.footballvhomophobia.com/fvt/

Homophobic Chanting to be Outlawed: The first baby step of millions

A government report released last week detailed plans to make homophobic abuse at football matches an illegal offence.

Released by the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS); the report stated that amendments will be made to the Football Offences Act 1991 to include homophobic chanting.

While a welcome step, you only have to look at the reaction of those outside of football to see how much of a baby step this is, with many who were unaware of the problems within football only displaying shock that homophobic chanting at football wasn’t already illegal.

It is no secret that currently no male players in English football are openly gay, with only one coming out while still playing in England in the history of the game in this country, and that was Justin Fashanu 30 years ago.

A small number of players have come out after retirement, and an organisation set up by Fashanu’s niece Amal (The Justin Fashanu Foundation) has stated a number of Premier League footballers are seeking counselling as they struggle with their own sexuality.

Former Premier League striker Marvin Sordell spoke as an ally earlier this year about homophobia within the industry when I interviewed him back in April.

Sordell, who retired from football at the age of 28 due to mental health struggles, talked about football’s handling of anything that deemed ‘different’.

While he agreed things need to change in the changing rooms too, he believes it is outside the changing rooms where the real issues would start for an openly gay footballer.

“I think it would be more accepting in that [the changing room] environment than out in public, and in the public domain to be honest,” Sordell expressed.

“I’d guess the reason a player wouldn’t come out as gay at the moment is probably more so because of the press, the media, the fans and social media. To put yourself out there as different is very difficult, particularly as a football player in this country.”

The 29-year-old also stated how he understands why many have and will continue to wait until after they are retired to come out, as they will be out of the spotlight a little bit and won’t have to play in packed stadiums every week.

“The fans will use that to get at that player, like racism is bad enough, and homophobia is a lot more accepted than racism.

“I have seen, heard and been on the receiving end of racism. That is something that is looked at as a horrible thing and people still do it, where as people accept homophobia more. Which is wrong, it is still discrimination, but if it is accepted more then it will happen more.”

It is that more accepting attitude towards homophobia that Marvin Sordell mentions which will provide the biggest struggle when attempting to police homophobia in the stands.

It is almost part of the culture that if a player goes down easy you call them a ‘poof’ or a ‘fairy’, or if a player has longer hair they look ‘gay’ or ‘queer’.

A lot of the homophobic chanting at grounds often comes under the ‘casual homophobia’ bracket which often gets played off as ‘just banter’.

A prime example of this can be found by just listening to away fans at Brighton games, which I’ve been in amongst on my away trips following my team, and this is Charlton who are one of the more progressive clubs in English football.

The feeling of sitting amongst your own fans who are chanting this causal homophobia is a very hard thing to come to terms with, especially as a still in the closet 14/15/16-year-old as I would have been at the time, which was the time period I slowly started realising my sexuality.

It basically confirmed what I had already decided that I would never come out in the footballing world, even now I am out and very confident in my own sexuality, away games can still be an intimidating prospect as much as I do love them for the most part.

That is coming from me, a bisexual cis male in a heterosexual relationship who can mostly blend into the crowd, as long as I keep a hat on to hide my hair. Which I have done ever since me taking my hat off at an away game once prompted a conversation behind me along the lines of when ‘fans started having queer haircuts like the players’.

I can only imagine how it would feel for someone who doesn’t have the same ability to blend in like I can, and even people who are a whole lot less secure in themselves than I have become.

This all begs the question of, how will it be policed when these laws are introduced? The racism protocol puts the onus on players getting the abuse to make the decisions, and even that is a broken system as it requires players to take the abuse more than once.

How does it work when it isn’t players getting abused? How does it work when it isn’t just a small minority, but a larger percentage of the crowd because it is ‘just banter’?

These, among others, are all questions that need to be answered. As this step is only the first baby steps of millions before football can truly be ‘everyone’s game’.

Written by Sam Clarke, FvH Youth Panel Communications Officer