Can better business help us kick racism out of football?
When I started as a young professional footballer at my local club Charlton Athletic back in the late 1970s, racism in the game was alive and kicking. Being based deep in the heart of south London, far-right groups such as the National Front were particularly active as they looked to use football stadiums as recruitment hubs.
In this era, the term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) meant very little to people like me and most of my peers. In terms of football generally, it was more or less non-existent.
As the 80’s ensued, football seemed no closer to embracing social cohesion projects. By this point I’d become the first black footballer to feature in the Italian leagues, and was on the verge of signing for Celtic. I spent two seasons in Glasgow before joining Chelsea, and by the time I’d arrived at Stamford Bridge, the winds of change were beginning to blow.
It was now early 90's and the shackles of Hillsborough, decrepit stadia and widespread hooliganism were beginning to fade in the memory as the Premier League was set to launch. All of a sudden, big money broadcast and sponsorship deals being cut with TV corporations such as Sky Sports had become commonplace.
I now travel around the world with my work and see how football has become a more powerful engagement tool than ever before. By using it effectively, people of great magnitude within the game, from players and coaches to board members and governing body representatives, are able to encourage, educate and motivate the younger generation and teach them the importance of tolerance and team spirit, and how to challenge certain social issues. The pitch isn't quite level, yet. No out gay players, a paucity of Asian and black coaches and managers, and a lack of women in the boardroom. But ask players if things have improved since the 80's, almost all would say yes.
Many businesses use CSR when the market is good and buoyant, and sometimes view it as an add-on. I believe CSR needs to be ingrained and woven into the fabric and ethos of an organisation, when times are good and bad. In these times of austerity, you see the serious brands carrying on with these practices and recognising how it acts as an intricate part of their delivery. Although not wholly incident free, Euro 2012 has shone a positive light on how the mass appeal of football can be used to weave in positive messages about inclusion, with team captain's reading out messages supporting anti-discrimination ahead of the semi-final's.
Deloitte has clearly demonstrated how high on the agenda it is for them with the partnership it has developed alongside Kick It Out, which works to challenge discrimination throughout football, education and community sectors. This year saw a panel discussion with Rachel Yankey from the Team GB Women's football team as well as the hosting of Kick It Out's Pioneers Exhibition.
I’ve been involved with the campaign for the best part of 20 years, and when you look at the power of its brand, there’s global recognition there. Many see Kick It Out as the template to follow when it comes to issues of race and equality, and our partnership with Deloitte has really helped to spread our word even further.
Paul Elliott CBE
Paul is an ambassador and trustee for the Kick It Out campaign. His distinguished football career has included being Chelsea's first black captain. Since retiring Paul has worked as a broadcaster for channel 4 and ITV and was awarded a CBE in reconition of his services to equality and diversity in football.