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“The change will only come if they make it happen” — Herman Ouseley on 25 years of fighting racism in British football

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Kick It Out, the charity set up in 1993 to, as it’s slogan says, “kick racism out of football.”

First established in 1993 as the “Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football” campaign, the organisation started to evolve and widen its scope before formally adopting the name Kick It Out in 1997.

Since then, the organisation has been at the forefront of combating not just racism, but sexism, homophobia and all other forms of discrimination.

Sports Gazette spoke to Lord Herman Ouseley, the founder of Kick It Out  who, last week, resigned as it’s chairman to discuss the progress of the campaign, and how much has changed in British football over the last 25 years.

On his struggles while setting up Kick It Out, Lord Ouseley said: “At that time racism was quite virulent in the game. It was right in your face, it was institutionalised, and no one seemed to want to do anything about it.

“Very few people were enthusiastic about my intervention in the game because they felt I was seeking to cause trouble and that these problems would go away eventually, and they still have not gone away 25 years later.” 

Since the campaign was set up, Kick It Out have faced a number of challenges which highlight just how resistant to change those in power in football were. 

“We’re a small charity with limited resources and we rely on football to provide our core funding and it limits what you can do. However good it is, it’s still never enough.

“The other side of that coin is that football then thinks that it’s’ our job to solve the problem of racism and other forms of discrimination in the game, while they’re giving us this limited amount of money to do so.

“The biggest challenge is always to get clubs and those who run the game to accept that it is their responsibility and that they have a duty of care to fans and players.

“Part of our job is to help them see how prejudiced they are, see how institutionalised they are in the way they discriminate against certain groups of people and to accept the responsibility that change will only come if they make it happen.”

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A key part of Kick It Out’s work is to monitor reports of incidents of racism in football, at work to ensure all complaints are taken up and acted upon. 

Kick It Out’s annual report for this year, shows a sixth consecutive annual rise in the reported incidents of racism in football, with an 11% increase in reported incidents from last year. 

However, the stats only tell one side of the story, and Lord Ouseley is of the opinion that is not an issue of a real terms increase in discrimination, but that people are now more aware of the complaints procedures available, and feel more confident to use them. 

“There are some grounds and clubs that are much more enlightened in taking action, and have shown the way. 

“There’s a recognition by fans at all levels now that they can complain, be it to the club, the FA, the league or Kick It Out.

“Clubs are working to make football a happy environment, and improve the experience of going to watch football in this country, and that is giving people the confidence to complain.

“We’re not there yet, but we’re a lot more comfortable than we were back in the ’90s.” 

The debate around how to combat racism within football was reignited this summer through the media’s treatment of Raheem Sterling, with sections of the press accused of using dog-whistle language, and reigning back on decades of progress.

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While Kick It Out was there to raise issues and awareness in a common sense way, Lord Ouseley felt that they shouldn’t be in the business of calling people out and labelling them as racist.

“What we do is try to educate. We try to show patterns of abuse which cause concern and need to be addressed,” Lord Ouseley said.

He continued: “I think where individual players are targeted, and it seems to be for no other reason than — in Raheem Sterling’s case — for the colour of their skin, the media will argue it’s because of their lifestyle choices, or their performance on the pitch.

“We have always got to be careful that we are not prohibiting freedom of expression, but we also need to look to Sterling’s teammates, his club, the Professional Footballers’ Association to defend him. 

“It has got to be seen as a collective effort when you think someone is being picked on unreasonably, with other people speaking out. 

“It’s not just Kick It Out’s role, we are there to educate everyone, and there are issues that could destroy people if they are not appropriately dealt with.”

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It’s not just players who are the victims of prejudice though, with the presence, or lack thereof, of black coaches and managers in football remaining one of the key barriers to equality that has yet to be broken down. 

Sol Campbell’s recent appointment as the manager of Macclesfield Town has put this issue back on the agenda and has highlighted the lack of black players progressing into management. Lord Ouseley saw this as a matter of opportunity, or lack thereof, rather than skill or experience 

“Historically a lot of top players have gone into management and have not been successful. Recently you have just got to look at Mark Hughes.

“There is not necessarily a correlation between how talented a player is and how successful a manager they will be.”

Lord Ouseley felt that plenty of opportunities to progress into management were being offered to former players, but black players were not being gifted these opportunities. 

“How can someone like Frank Lampard walk into a top job with no experience, when black players are told they don’t have any experience. 

“There has been a denial of opportunity, and we are trying to open that door.”

Over the last 25 years, the work of Kick It Out has radically changed the conversation around discrimination in football, and has helped make significant progress on the pitch and in the stands. 

However, the recent events at Stamford Bridge and the Emirates show us that there is still much to do, and the work of Kick It Out is as important now as it was 25 years ago. 

Featured photograph/Gordan Ednie/Flickr

Timothy Hammersley
Tim, 21, was born and brought up in the North West, living in Manchester and Warrington before heading down south for his undergraduate degree in Politics at the University of Essex. Tim’s main sporting interests are Cricket, Boxing and Non-League Football, following his beloved Altrincham F.C. whenever he can. Tim has had a range of work experience placements, spending time at the Warrington Guardian, Lancashire County Cricket Club, Colchester United FC. Alongside his studies, Tim works as the Media and Communications officer for Millwall Community Trust, as well as volunteering in the Press Team at Hampton & Richmond Borough FC. Whilst writing is a keen passion, Tim sees his future working in PR and communications for a sporting body or organisation.
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