Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

This week saw Football Association board member Heather Rabbatts – along with the government’s Sports and Equalities Minister Helen Grant – speak out against the lack of diversity on the new commission into the future of the English football team. The body was initially made up of eight members chosen to rejuvenate the national side. It was all-white and all-male, with an average age of 57.

Rabbatts, the only female or non-white person currently on the FA board, questioned the selection process for the new commission at the weekend. She described it as “particularly ironic”, given the number of black players in the England set-up, that there is “absolutely no representation from…ethnic minority communities”.

The FA have previously been criticised for their handling of the John Terry and Luis Suarez racial abuse cases, and yesterday anti-racism organisations – including Kick It Out and Football Against Racism in Europe – questioned the selection process for the new body.

FA Chairman Greg Dyke pointed out on Sunday that steps had been taken to find ethnic minority representation (albeit without success), and then, at the eleventh hour, it was announced that Manchester United’s mixed-race defender Rio Ferdinand would join the panel.

Given how important promoting diversity will be to the new commission’s work, the initial lack of black faces does look like an oversight. It is also worrying that Rabbatts – a talented women who has helped modernise Millwall FC as well as several local authorities – had to go public to get her voice heard.

Much of the current debate around diversity at the top focuses on business and politics, but we must not ignore sport and the arts. The FA, in particular, is an organisation often accused of being out of touch with the increasingly fast-moving and globalised sport which it governs. To shake of its ‘gaffe prone’, blazer-clad image, a commitment to diversity is vital – not for cosmetic reasons, but to make it more effective as an organisation.

Earlier in the week, meanwhile, Theresa May used international Anti-Slavery Day, which took place on Friday, to announce her forthcoming Modern Slavery Bill. In order to send out the “strongest possible message” that the UK will not tolerate slavery, she said the bill will include a maximum life sentence for trafficking. The UK currently has around 4,600 enslaved people according to Walk Free’s Global Slavery Index, and a recent report suggests big increases in trafficking from Albania, Lithuania and Poland.

There were suggestions from some that May’s proposals overlook victims. Klara Skrivankova, from the charity Anti-Slavery International, said “Unless the protection of victims is put on a statutory footing, we’re unlikely to see more prosecutions”, and David Hanson MP, Labour’s shadow immigration minister, pointed out that 60% of the UK’s trafficked children go missing after being identified by authorities.

Walk Free also say that the UK’s vulnerability to trafficking is exacerbated by the “incredibly precarious living situation” our asylum system creates for refugees, and others have pointed out the difficulty of tackling trafficking while looking to withdraw from organisations like Europol or the EU Arrest Warrant.

I applaud May’s commitment to ending modern slavery, but would ask her to avoid letting Tory prejudices on immigration and Europe undermine these efforts.

Womens’s football

Labour Party

Most footballers can only ever dream of scoring the winning goal against Brazil at Wembley and certainly not at an Olympic Games.

However, this is precisely what England’s Women’s Player of the Year did – almost certainly to the envy of many of her male counterparts.

It was some achievement for the twenty-four year old Steph Houghton who subsequently became the poster girl of English women’s football when she was awarded Women’s Player of the Year earlier this month.

Despite this accolade she earns less in a year than Wayne Rooney earns in a day. The annual salary for a top female player is £20,000 per year. Wages for women footballers are so low they are permitted to take on a second job of up to 24 hours a week. Wayne Rooney earns £26,000 a day. Can you imagine the response if one of Alex Ferguson’s star players turned up late for training because he’d finished his second job late? No, neither can I. The disparity in footballers’ wages is quite shocking – I understand that premier league football generates significant revenue through sponsorship but I also find it depressing that a male footballer at the top of his game earns in a day what a top female footballer will earn in a year.

I’ve said before that a significant part of the Olympic legacy must be to encourage more women to participate and compete in sport. And women such as Steph Houghton have become an important champion to make this happen.

The Football Association still has a significant amount of work to do in this area; while it celebrates its 150th anniversary, it only started to run women’s football 20 years ago.

However, there is hope that the FA is beginning to take women’s football more seriously – it has committed to invest £3.5 million over the next four years with the aim to make the women’s game the second largest team sport by 2018 (overtaking men’s rugby and cricket).

It is only if other sports make similar commitments that we will see a generation of capable women smashing new records.