Football and diversity – do we really mean it?

THE CORPORATE world has long embraced diversity as a strategic tool that attempts to differentiate a company as a caring, sharing employer. It’s interesting that many organisations define this as female empowerment and sexual orientation but seem to forget age as an essential part of this strategy. Football clubs have, with varying degrees of success, grasped the diversity concept, but it is a long game, and to some extent, they have a different agenda.

Hosting social days that focus on women, as laudable as that may be, is not enough for a club to claim it is a diverse environment that welcomes everyone. Look at the average crowd demographic at a non-league game, and it is still overwhelmingly white, middle age and male. At some clubs, you have to fear for the future, for eventually, the audience will diminish and fade away. Clubs have to work hard at replenishing their customer base, and that includes reshaping what they’re offering in order to appeal to new generations of potential fans. Future planning should not just be to tailored to the tastes and requirements of the current, ageing fan base, but has to anticipate the crowd of tomorrow.

Whether we like it or not, we (and I’m talking the middle age nonleague crowd) will become less relevant as we get older. It’s not just football, it is everything around us – consumer goods, technology, social trends – all things being invented, developed, modified and marketed are being aimed at the young and upcoming, unless of course it is funeral insurance, retirement cruises and the scam that is equity release. Just watch TV during the day and get very depressed!

But where the older generation can really play it’s part in the concept of diversity is in realising the world has changed, that the old model of work till you drop, mortgage and jobs for life has gone and this is shaping how younger generations see the world. We grew up in a time when stand-up comedians made jokes about every segment of the community and it was deemed to be acceptable. It is no longer au courantand, unwittingly, we often fall into the trap of perpetuating the sins of the past. Jokes on the terraces that once received laughter and widespread appreciation have to be consigned to the past. The modern generation is socially aware, more concerned about the future of the planet, more accepting of different cultures and sexual preferences, and is generally more sensitive.

Diversity is not only about these aspects, it is also about accepting that people of different mindsets are also welcome at a football club. This includes people who might be more outspoken, those that challenge the status quo or ask difficult questions of those running a club, those that refuse to accept things that may demand more explanation.

It is worth reminding people that all too frequently, after a major crime, disaster or episode of scandal, there are many people who are wise after the event, insist they were aware of criminal activity, they pointed out inadequate cladding on a building, or suspected money was being siphoned out of a pension fund. How often is the person asking difficult questions ignored or treated with disdain became they are railing against the establishment? It is no good saying, “we were just obeying orders”. Just visit a concentration camp site in Poland to remind yourself what happens when this gets out of control.

There’s a gap in football’s thinking around diversity, although it is changing, and that’s the gay corner of our community. The game is still very uncomfortable with accepting and welcoming homosexuality and this is where it trails the corporate world by some distance. At some clubs there is still some reluctance to even discuss this subject. Again, it is a generational thing, but the more younger people there are about the place will soon change that mindset.

It’s not confined to nonleague, though. For all the rainbow flags, just listen to the average football crowd and you’ll invariably still hear jokes and little jibes around gay people, black players and women. The game is a mass spectator sport and when you have lots of people, you get a large percentage who are not plugged into topical issues.

There’s one final thought. The past two years have shown how far away we are from making diversity a truly sincere part of British society. Brexit is, to a large degree, an expression of insularity and the way it has divided the country and created rifts between those that voted leave and remain, along with the worrying rise of antisemitism and intolerance of political views, shows us that diversity may be something of a mirage, after all. I hope I am wrong.

Photo: PA

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