Equal in Soccer? As the World Cup reaches its climax, the diversity challenge facing the world’s most popular sport

Originally published on 11 July 2014 by San Francisco based Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, the world’s largest nonprofit organization specifically dedicated to creating safe and equitable workplaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

By Edward Lord, member of the English Football Association’s Inclusion Board

Association Football (or soccer) is the world’s favourite sport, played by more than 240 million players in 1.4 million teams and 300,000 clubs across the world and that is before you even consider the over a billion fans who support their local and national sides. With that kind of extraordinary reach, it might be assumed that soccer must by its very nature be incredibly inclusive. After all, as a global sport, soccer is played and supported by people representing the vast majority of the world’s nationalities, religions, and racial groups.

And yet, despite this, soccer remains embroiled in controversy for its failure to embrace diversity and make all people feel welcome on the pitch or as spectators in stadia. Accusations of racism on the field and exhibitions of racist and ultra nationalist conduct by fans often discourage people from getting involved in the game as players or supporters.

The FARE Network has just published its report on incidents that took place during the FIFA World Cup in Brazil. It describes 14 occasions in which visiting fans brought their own prejudices, attitudes and ways of supporting football that most fair-minded people would categorise as discriminatory.

The incidents include homophobic abuse, racism, and references to far-right ideologies. In other areas of diversity, soccer is also seriously lacking. With the obvious exception of the United States, women’s football is very much a second class sport compared to the men’s game in most countries. It doesn’t attract anywhere near the same level of media exposure, which has a knock on detrimental impact on public support and commercial sponsorship.

Perhaps this is at least in part due to the sexist attitudes of senior soccer administrators. Who can forget FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s suggestion in 2004 that women footballers should “play in different and more feminine garb than the men, in tighter shorts for example”, let alone the leaked emails of the English Premier League Chief this year in which he referred to women as “gash”.

Disability football is so little thought of that it doesn’t even fall within the ambit of FIFA as soccer’s world governing body, despite blind and cerebral palsy football both being Paralympic sports.

As for LBGT involvement in soccer, we remain in a position where male gay and bisexual professional footballers are too afraid to come out for fear of adverse reaction by fans and their fellow players. Whilst things have certainly moved on since Justin Fashanu’s suicide in 1998, there was certainly not universal acclaim when Thomas Hitzlsperger and Robbie Rogers came out, both after they had retired from the top flight. Similarly, whilst LGBT fan groups are becoming increasing visible, like Arsenal’s Gay Gooners group marching in the London Pride Parade, soccer stadiums often remain intimidating venues for queer supporters.

So it seems that despite its global reach, soccer still has much to do to in order to be a really open and welcoming sport. As in many industries, things will only improve if diversity role models and allies become visible and proactive in their promotion of inclusion within the game. At the same time football authorities need to adopt a zero tolerance approach to discrimination, implementing effective reporting and disciplinary systems that give people confidence that misconduct will be taken seriously and perpetrators will be punished. Team administrators, managers and coaches also have a role to play and will need training so that they can serve as advocates for diversity, creating an inclusive team environment. Only by taking these steps will football be able to justify its claim that it is for everyone.

Edward Lord OBE is a senior sports administrator and an active equality campaigner. He serves on the Inclusion Advisory Board of the English Football Association and is Chair of the Board of the ASA, England’s governing body for swimming, diving, water polo and other aquatic disciplines. He was recognised by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his work on inclusion in 2011, being made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire

The FA Cup – still football’s best knock-out competition

FA Cup Final 2014

Yesterday’s FA Cup final reminded me what football is all about – not the politics or boardroom intrigue, nor the business wheeling and dealing. Football is about the players and the fans, their passion and determination.

As I travelled to and from Wembley crushed together on the Metropolitan Line amid a sea of folk in amber and black or red and white, I saw their eager anticipation, followed later by the great joy of victory, the resigned courage of defeat, and the genuine happiness of just being at a cup final.

For Arsenal, victory has brought a long awaited return of silverware to their trophy cabinet. For Hull, despite losing 3-2 after being ahead 2-0, they had the excitement of their first ever appearance in an FA Cup Final.

As Premiership sides, both clubs joined the competition in January’s third round proper to get to today’s finals. In total though 737 clubs have participated in the 2013-14 campaign starting with the extra preliminary round in August last year, including some classic giant-killing clashes along the way.

And that is what makes the FA Cup so very special. The opportunity it allows teams at every level of the game to battle it through to meet the ‘big boys’ of the Football League and Premier League and, in some cases, beat them.

Throughout the 885 games in this season’s FA Cup competition it has been the tactics, the skill, the sheer endurance of twenty two players over 90 (or in yesterday’s case almost 130) minutes that made it so attractive, especially as ultimately there must be a winner, be it after a replay, extra time or penalties. The joy of knock-out competitions is that there is everything to play for and there are rarely guaranteed victors and games frequently see surprise results.

The glory of the Premiership and the Champions League – and the huge spoils available to their participants – may have put the FA Cup, once the pinnacle of English football, in the shade. I remain convinced however that the FA Cup remains the greatest club knock-out competition in football and the joyful faces of the fans said that loud and clear to me on this cup final day. Long may it continue.


One further thought from the Cup Final, and a very positive one, was how wonderfully diverse the crowd was at Wembley, especially amongst the Arsenal fans. People of all ethnicities, of differing social backgrounds, and with a much improved gender balance were visible in a well behaved and cheerful audience for the match. As a champion of equality and inclusion in football, that made me very happy.

Sexism in Football: Scudamore apology ‘insincere’ and ‘unsustainable’ – is his position now untenable?

In his column in today’s Daily Mail, Charlie Sale reveals not only the names of the other dramatis personae in the Scudamore email saga, but also exposes the text of a message the premier league chief executive sent to his club chairs last Saturday warning them of the forthcoming Sunday Mirror story.

In his note to clubs, Scudamore says of the Sunday Mirror’s story that it:

‘had been obviously timed for our last day for it to cause maximum embarrassment to me and therefore the Premier League. The newspaper is asserting that some of the content is sexist and inappropriate. You will be the judge.”

This seeming refusal to accept that the content of his emails were in fact sexist and inappropriate to my mind completely undermines his public apology, and leads to only one conclusion: that it was insincere and therefore unsustainable in the court of public opinion.

If it is that Richard Scudamore didn’t believe that what he had written was wrong less than a week ago, I think that it is highly unlikely that he has come to that conclusion in any reality since. On that basis it appears to me that his position is now looking untenable.

If Scudamore doesn’t accept the heinous nature of his sexist remarks and the impact they have had, not only on women in the game, but on the perception they create of football’s commitment to equality and inclusion in general, then regrettably I must reach the conclusion that he may be in the wrong job.

Edward Lord is a member of the Football Association’s Inclusion Advisory Board and Chair of the London FA Inclusion Advisory Group, writing in a personal capacity. 

Sexism in Football: Dyke and Fry – what action are you going to take on Scudamore?

As a follow-up on my blog post, I have now written an open letter to the Chairmen of the FA and the Premier League asking what action they are going to take regarding Richard Scudamore’s emails which he has accepted were “inappropriate”.


Greg Dyke Esq.


The Football Association


Anthony Fry Esq.


The FA Premier League Limited


Dear Chairmen,

Yesterday evening I published a blog post questioning whether the Premier League Chief Executive  Richard Scudamore should face FA disciplinary charges in light of the sexist and discriminatory content of a series of emails reported in the Sunday Mirror.

It appears to me that Richard’s comments must be in breach of FA Rules E3 and E4 and also of the Premier League’s own Anti-Discrimination Policy:

“1. … Football belongs to, and should be enjoyed by, everyone equally. The League shares with the FA a commitment to confront and eliminate discrimination, whether by reason of sex, sexual orientation, race, nationality, ethnic origin, colour, religion of disability.

2.  The League is an equal opportunities employer. It is committed to equality of opportunity within its organisation and to encouraging similar commitment from every other organisation or individual acting within the game.

3. Equality of opportunity means that in none of its activities will the League discriminate against, or in any way treat less favourably, any person on grounds of sex, sexual orientation, race, nationality, ethnic origin, colour, religion or disability. …

4. The League will not tolerate sexual or racially-based harassment or other discriminatory behaviour, whether physical or verbal, and the Board will ensure that such behaviour is met with appropriate disciplinary action whenever it occurs

Moreover, the attitudes that his comments demonstrate beg a series of questions about his own and the Premier League’s commitment to diversity in general and specifically about the role of women in football as players, coaches, officials and leaders.

As a member of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board, charged with verifying and monitoring the delivery of English Football’s Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Action Plan, I would like to ask you both what steps the FA and Premier League intend to take:

  1. To ensure appropriate disciplinary action is taken regarding Richard’s inappropriate and discriminatory remarks; and
  2. To assure women in football that Richard’s comments do not represent institutional sexism within the game and to demonstrate that women are welcome at every level of football, from the dressing room to the boardroom?

I look forward to hearing from you and would, of course, be happy to meet if you would find that to be helpful.

With best wishes,

Yours sincerely,

Edward Lord

Edward Lord is a member of the Football Association’s Inclusion Advisory Board and Chair of the London FA Inclusion Advisory Group, writing in a personal capacity. 

Sexism in Football: “Should Scudamore face FA charges?” asks Inclusion Board Member

This morning’s Sunday Mirror revealed shocking remarks made by Richard Scudamore, Chief Executive of the Premier League and arguably English football’s most powerful leader. Scudamore’s private emails contain a series of totally inappropriate comments about female colleagues and other women which appear to completely undermine his credibility as an advocate for women’s football and draw into question his true views on the role of women in the game.

Others in football, most notably players and coaches, have faced FA charges of bringing the game into disrepute by making discriminatory comments. It will be a test of the Football Association’s strength as a regulator to see if it has the courage to take steps against a figure as significant as Richard Scudamore.

FA Rule E3 states as to the conduct of anyone involved in football:

“(1) A Participant shall at all times act in the best interests of the game and shall not act in any manner which is improper or brings the game into disrepute or use any one, or a combination of, violent conduct, serious foul play, threatening, abusive, indecent or insulting words or behaviour.”

“(2) A breach of Rule E3(1) is an “Aggravated Breach” where it includes a reference to any one or more of the following :- ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation or disability.”

FA Rule E4 states:

“A Participant shall not carry out any act of discrimination by reason of ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, disability, age, pregnancy, maternity, marital status or civil partnership….”

On a plain reading of those Rules, there must surely be a case to answer, making Scudamore potentially liable to a charge of improper conduct, aggravated by the clearly discriminatory nature of his comments.

It will now be interesting to see what, if any, steps the FA takes to challenge his conduct. Whether a charge is raised or not, some action must be taken to demonstrate that women are welcome in football, on the field of play, as coaches and officials, and in the leadership of clubs, leagues, and the FA.

Edward Lord is a member of the Football Association’s Inclusion Advisory Board and Chair of the London FA Inclusion Advisory Group, writing in a personal capacity. 

Hughton: Possibly the right decision for Norwich, but definitely a disaster for football’s diversity

The decision to sack a manager is always one of the hardest for a football club board. How many matches without a win do we give him (and regrettably it is always ‘him’) before the axe falls? What will the fans’ and players’ reactions be? Who do we get to replace him in the short and long term? How much is it going to cost to pay him and his coaching team off?

I am sure all of those thoughts will have gone through the minds of directors at Carrow Road in recent days. Ultimately, it has to be the board’s call or that of the owner, depending upon the club’s individual circumstances. And for that, I have no criticism of the Norwich City directors in their decision to call it a day on the management of Chris Hughton. As their statement said “The decision has been taken to give the club the maximum chance of survival.”, an understandable position given Norwich’s standing in the Premiership.

The tragedy of his departure is naturally for Hughton himself, but it is much broader than that. It now leaves English football without a single black or Asian manager in any of the 92 professional clubs. When Chris Powell left Charlton Athletic last month there was natural concern that we had lost a key role model for BAME football coaches who aspire to manage at the highest level. With Hughton’s sacking, there is now no one in the top flight that people can look to and say “Yes, I want to be him.”

I know that around the UK and beyond we have some first class black coaches, many of them former top flight footballers, who would make great club managers. Let’s hope that as chairmen start to look around the talent pool at the end of the season to decide who could bring success to their side in 2014-15, they are willing to embrace diversity in the dug-out as we have embraced it on the pitch. We need Chris Hughton and Chris Powell back in management roles and with them we need to see an ever more diverse group of leaders in our national game.

And thinking of hope, I’m keeping my fingers’ crossed that a chairman somewhere will be offering their manager’s job to the fabulous Hope Powell. I certainly would were I in charge in a club boardroom.

Edward Lord is a member of the Football Association’s Inclusion Advisory Board and chair of the London FA’s Inclusion Advisory Group, writing in a personal capacity.

Another victory for the Lionesses, yet still women’s football remains vastly undervalued

140405 ENG V MTO Brighton FIFA WWC

Yesterday – Saturday 5 April 2014 – I had the privilege of watching England beat Montenegro 9-0 in their FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifier at Brighton’s Amex Community Stadium. It was an exceptional match, full of entertaining and skillful football, played in a spirit of friendship and good humour. Despite the appearance of the scoreline, Montenegro tried hard, with some very effective players, all the more remarkable as their women’s side has only been competing internationally for two years.

The sadness for me was that even with remarkably cheap ticket prices (£5 for adults, £2.50 for concessions), the match attendance was only 8,900, filling a little over a third of the seats in the Amex. Admittedly it was also being covered live on BBC2 and I look forward to learning the viewing figures. But it begs the question, why aren’t these first class international matches attracting the crowds they could? Particularly so when women’s football in the Olympic Games was very popular, with matches almost filling Wembley Stadium. What has happened to those crowds? Why don’t they come to watch England play, let alone the same players in the FA Women’s Super League? The answer is, to my mind, twofold – culture and investment, the latter probably being a follow-on from the former.

The culture of football, and sport generally, is heavily influenced by the press and broadcasters. The British media still don’t regard women’s football – or any women’s sport for that matter – as seriously as they do men’s. In today’s Sunday Times if you were looking for mention of England Women’s victory, you had to wait until page 6 of the Sport section to find – at the bottom of the page – a few hundred words and a small picture of hat-trick scoring Toni Duggan. Now imagine if the England men’s first team had scored such a remarkable victory. Would that have been on page six? No, of course not. It would have occupied two or three pages of the Sports section and probably have been splashed across the front page of the main newspaper as well. It really is time for this outrageous gender bias in sport coverage to be challenged and to change.

But for the media to change their approach to women’s sport, other factors need to change too, not least the way in which national governing bodies demonstrate their commitment to diversity. In 2012, the FA published Game Changer its plan for women’s football 2013-18. This ambitious plan says all the right things and I have absolute faith in its author, the Director of National Game and Women’s Football, Kelly Simmons, ably supported by Head of Women’s Development, Rachel Pavlou, and Head of Women’s Leagues and Competitions, Katie Brazier. What I have less faith in is the FA’s financial investment in the women’s game compared to the men’s. For example, how much was the marketing budget for yesterday’s match? Surely, with a bit more money and imagination, Brighton – known for its liberal culture and diverse population – could have produced more than 8,900 folk in the crowd?

Part of the difficulty though is that the FA’s own stakeholders aren’t overly enthused by women’s football. Even now I’m told that not all 92 professional clubs support women’s and girls’ football through their development activities, let alone have a women’s side bearing the club’s name. Of those that do, far too few invest any serious money in their women’s team, though slowly but surely this appears to be changing with at least Liverpool and Manchester City joining Arsenal in committing proper funding this season. At grassroots level there remain institutional barriers to promoting gender (or any other form of) equality. The leadership of most county FAs is male, pale, and stale and that is then reflected in the membership of the FA’s ruling Council which has only four women out of its over 100 members.

I’m pleased that, through my roles in the FA Inclusion Board and the London County FA, I may have the opportunity to have some influence on changing the culture that undervalues women’s football and the role that women themselves can play in governing our national game. I’m passionate about the vision of Football for Everyone. Now let’s make it a reality.

Edward Lord is a member of the Football Association’s Inclusion Advisory Board and Chair of the London FA Inclusion Advisory Group, writing in a personal capacity. 

See It. Hear It. Report It. FA films help rid football of discrimination.

We all want to feel welcome and safe at football matches, whether we are on the pitch, in the dugout, or in the stands. Anti-LGBT discrimination, be it ‘banter’ between players and coaches or more blatant chanting from spectators can often lead to us feeling uncomfortable or even threatened.

As an FA disciplinary chair and a magistrate in Central London I know that the football authorities and police can only take action against those who perpetrate homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic abuse at matches if it is reported at the time or as soon as possible afterwards.

The FA’s new films detail exactly what to do if you are a player or fan, should you encounter discrimination, and bring to life the animations of Paul Trevillion, famous for his ‘You Are the Ref’ cartoons. Former England stars Dion Dublin and Graeme Le Saux narrate the films, respectively.

I think these new films are a great reminder to fans, players and officials alike that we can all help fight discrimination. If you see it, or hear it, then you should report it.

Edward Lord OBE is a member of the Football Association’s Inclusion Advisory Board; a Stonewall Ambassador and Role Model; and chairman of the Amateur Swimming Association, England’s governing body for swimming, diving, water polo, and synchronised swimming. 

Football: Time for tougher sanctions on fans who discriminate and the clubs that tolerate them?

Channel 4’s Dispatches programme broadcast on Monday evening, which focused on racist, antisemitic, Islamaphobic, and homophobic conduct by fans of a number of English football clubs has inevitably resulted in many friends and colleagues expressing horror about this misbehaviour and the damage it does to the reputation of our national game. Moreover people have turned to me, as a member of the Football Association’s new Inclusion Advisory Board (IAB), to demand action.

I have little doubt that this subject will be a major topic of debate at the IAB’s next regular meeting in April. Indeed I know that the Board’s excellent chair, Heather Rabbatts CBE, and executives at the FA are already in discussion about how to respond to this new evidence.

In the meantime, I have been considering my own position on the topic and examining the options. One possibility is for the FA, Premier League, and Football League to follow the example of UEFA, the European football governing body, which recently strengthened its disciplinary regulations in relation to sanctions against clubs whose fans exhibited discriminatory conduct during the course of a UEFA regulated match (i.e. European Championships, the Champions League, Europa League etc.).

Article 14 of UEFA’s Disciplinary Regulations states that:

1. Any [national FA, club, official, or player] who insults the human dignity of a person or group of persons by whatever means, including on the grounds of skin colour, race, religion or ethnic origin, incurs a suspension lasting at least ten matches or a specified period of time, or any other appropriate sanction.

It goes on to say:

2. If one or more of a [national FA] or club’s supporters engage in the behaviour described in paragraph 1, the [national FA] or club responsible is punished with a minimum of a partial stadium closure.

In other words, the part of the stadium from which the misconduct emanated can be closed and cleared, which clearly will effect not only those who have misbehaved but also those sitting or standing around them. I assume that this sanction will have the benefit of exacting peer pressure on offenders from their better behaved colleagues who don’t wish to be removed from the stands because of misconduct by others nearby.

The UEFA regulations continue by stating that repeat offences involving the same club can be punished by matches being played behind closed doors, fines, stadium closures, forfeiting of a match, the deduction of points or disqualification from the competition, all of which are sanctions which would severely punish a club and its fans.

The threat of this kind of sanction would, I suspect, focus the minds of club owners, directors, and officials to the need to tackle racist, homophobic, or other discriminatory conduct by their fans. Knowing that misconduct could see a club lose all of its gate income were a match to be played behind closed doors, or worse still see them removed from a competition entirely should, I hope, mean that there will be both a footballing and commercial imperative to dealing with the problem.

But what can clubs do improve fan conduct and to demonstrate that improper behaviour will not be tolerated? Some clubs – working with the FA, the Leagues, and organisations like Kick it Out, Football v Homopobia, and Just a Ball Game? – have already instituted effective education programmes including use of videos, social media, match programme articles, and events, which aim to address both the thinking and behaviour of supporters. This of course should continue and be encouraged and I know that the FA IAB will be promoting this kind of work.

But education only goes so far. Clubs need to demonstrate that they are taking a tough line on discriminatory misconduct by their fans. Stewards need to be better trained so they can – with the assistance of the police where necessary – address bad behaviour as it occurs, including removing fans from the ground where they are seen and/or heard to engage in racist or homophobic chanting. Repeat offenders – or ringleaders – should be given lifetime bans from following the club they claim to love. Police need to investigate, arrest, and charge those who commit criminal offences so the courts can use tools such as football banning orders to protect the public and the game.

Football is an amazing sport not just on the field but also because of its ability to bring communities together. It can only do that if everyone feels welcome at matches. Disciminatory behaviour needs to be stamped out and that means that the football authorities, the clubs, and fans themselves need to take action now to carry on changing the culture of the game, so that when we talk about ‘football for all’ we really mean it.

Edward Lord OBE is a member of the Football Association’s Inclusion Advisory Board and chair of the Inclusion Advisory Group for the London FA. This post is written in a personal capacity and does not reflect the views of the FA or the London FA. 

Gender diversity in the City: Lloyds Banking Group takes up Lord Mayor’s challenge

2014 is the year for promoting diversity in the Square Mile. The City’s second ever woman Lord Mayor, Alderman Fiona Woolf CBE, (shamefully given there have been 686 holders of the office) has made the power of diversity one of her key themes. In launching the programme in her 686 Plan, Fiona says:

The City depends upon being able to draw the best talent from an increasingly diverse and inclusive pool for the innovation that society now needs. The Power of Diversity programme will highlight and discuss the critical steps that the City at all management levels must take to maximise the energy and innovation that diversity can bring to business.

She goes on to ask some key questions: Where are the new ideas and a new challenge to old ideas going to come from? Is the talent pool wide enough to facilitate the desired social mobility and inclusion?

As this Sky News reports demonstrates, someone has been listening and has decided to act. Lloyds Banking Group has committed itself to having forty per cent of its top 5,000 jobs filled by women within six years. This sends a very welcome message that in Lloyds at least, the glass ceiling is a thing of the past.

Let’s hope that more City businesses – and those outside the financial and professional services industries – respond to the Lord Mayor’s rallying cry. Business will benefit from having leadership teams that look and think more like Britain’s diverse society – they are after all the customers served by those companies.

There are many people of talent who aren’t white straight men in their 50s, 60s, and 70s – so let’s see many more women, more LGBT people, more people from different ethnic backgrounds, more disabled people, and younger people in our boardrooms.

As chairman of the ASA, I’m proud to have the fabulous Lisa Wainwright as my deputy chair; and in my time as chairman of Local Partnerships, I appointed two excellent women chief executives and other senior women to the board and management team. The talent is out there – just go and find it.