On 1st December the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre offered a special evening of discussion and debates about the inclusion for people from the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGB&T) communities in the football field. The panel saw professional football figures arguing about how this sport takes its next steps on to be the game that is truly ‘for everyone’.
The event began with a brief presentation by Dr. Andy Harvey from Birkbeck, who introduced the argument and all senior figures who took part. The first who joined the debate was Roisin Wood, Chief Executive of the independent campaigning organization Kick it Out. The core aim of the organization is to tackle all forms of discrimination and in the meantime working with the football authorities, professional clubs, players, fans and communities to avoid this. She stressed how is important to report any kind of discrimination incidents and abusive language. For this reason, Kick It Out has just launched a new mobile app that allows fans to report that. They also are working with the Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN) and promote an important programme called “Fans for diversity” with the purpose of support LGB&T fans groups and their facilities.
The seminar also involved an ex English professional footballer, Bobby Barnes, who now is Deputy Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers Association (PFA). Starting to talk about campaigns against racism, he highlighted that often the best people who promote the LGB&T community are those who realized that discrimination is wrong by own reflections. However, Barnes emphasized that work needs to be done, for this reason the PFA will run education sessions around these themes, underling also that ‘Football should be open to all, is the people’ sport.’
Promoter of this philosophy is also Arsenal F. C. Communications Director Mark Gonnella who based his speech on how it is important promoting values and actions as a first class club. He noted that the only thing essential in football is the ability and the wish to perform in a club ‘Passports, race, sexuality or any other characteristic are unimportant in building a team.‘ Gonnella was keen to promote the ‘Arsenal way’ and the born of some campaigns as ‘Arsenal for everyone’. However, he added: ‘One of the thing I am more proud about was the conversation with one gay supporter in order to set up a group,’ he said. ‘Go on and do it, I told him. I have the responsibility to encourage them as club.’ The group, formed two years ago, grew up quickly (at present over 200 members) and had good responses from fans around the world. ‘Football has to open doors in any kind of support. From Arsenal point of view we know, we support,’ he concluded.
The last guest speaker, before an open debate with all people from the floor, was Kelly Simmons, Director of National Game and Women’s Football for the Football Association (FA). The FA worked next to Kick It Out for important events and will start the ‘Football v Homophobia’ campaign in February, encouraging grass roots clubs to take part in it. Reminding the business sense to not exclude anybody from football, she reported also that football is not only a man’ sport, women’s football is presenting an impressive growth. She stressed the FA’s work in promoting and ensuring LGB&T inclusion at every level, especially organizing workshops for football clubs.
Thus, Dr. Harvey was keen to highlight by his blog how this event could be significant for our university: ‘From a Birkbeck perspective, the evening opens up possible avenues for research, especially into fan cultures and attitudes, as well as in evaluating the plethora of measures that are being taken to promote inclusion across football at every level.’ Overall, the seminar was really interesting, especially underling how much progress has been made and what still need to achieve and ensure more inclusion. Football is for everyone and everyone has to be responsible to tackle discrimination.