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.