A letter to English football from Paul Elliott, chair of our inclusion advisory board

Thursday 18 Jun 2020
Former Charlton Athletic, Chelsea and Celtic defender Paul Elliott is chair of our Inclusion Advisory Board

It fills me with huge pride that, for the remainder of the season, teams playing in the Premier League, EFL and the Emirates FA Cup will support the Black Lives Matter campaign.

This will ensure that everyone around the world knows that English football is united against racism.

Progress has been made by English football in the last 30 years. When I played, a torrent of racist abuse was sadly the norm. We've worked hard to reduce discrimination from the pitch and from the terraces.

But despite that progress, we still have some way to go as a game in some key areas. Critically, we need to address the systemic inequalities that prevent under-represented and minority communities gaining senior management opportunities across society and in football.

We must ensure that our boardrooms and leadership positions reflect the society that we live in and the people who play the game.

Paul Elliott started his career as a youngster with Charlton Athletic

We need to lead this change as it will help ensure that voices from all our communities are heard and to encourage the broadest possible range of talent to work in our wonderful game. As well as helping to combat discrimination, this will make us more effective as businesses. It will also signal change to the country.

Thirty years ago, racism was a societal problem; but it was football and footballers who led the way, standing up to racism and helping change perceptions across the country. It’s clear that inequality is still being felt across all of society today and rather than resisting change, we need to embrace and drive it.

Football is a game that unites like no other and players across the game are clear that they want football to lead once again. Football needs to lead the way not because of its high profile but because of its unique demographics.

Football, like in nearly every area of society, has Black and minority ethnic people underrepresented at all senior levels. Nearly 30 per cent of professional footballers are Black but Black people are still a rarity in the boardroom, executive offices and dugouts. This must change.

Showing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter campaign is a welcome start, but it will be an empty gesture from football if we don’t take this opportunity for concrete action. Your support for the campaign and the players’ passionate voices have shown me that if there is an opportunity to create change, the game will take it.

We are therefore creating a voluntary code for Equality In Football Leadership, which every level of club will be able to sign up to – whether grassroots, semi-professional or elite.

This will be a firm and tangible commitment to diversity and inclusion in boardrooms, senior administration and coaching. I’m asking that you join us.

Don’t be silent. Football must unite against inequality.

I will be working on the details of the code with some of the senior black leaders in the game. We will welcome any feedback and input from across the game and beyond.

We will conduct a structured three-month consultation process. The three-month period ensures we do not get bogged down in interminable meetings whilst another generation of talented Black and ethnic minority candidates miss out on the chance to develop their careers in football. Project Restart has shown football can move quickly when it sees the need.

Our aim is to add to the good work clubs are already doing up and down the country, working with them to create meaningful targets which we can then all use to demonstrate collective progress.

Adopting the code will signify that together we want to go on a journey to ensure football leads the way. The targets may vary according to multiple factors. For example, the region of the country that you operate in or global reach and impact. We’ll audit annually and will be transparent in publicising the results. To do this, clubs will need to be prepared to be transparent about their diversity statistics.

Manchester City's Kevin de Bruyne and Arsenal Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, along with referee Anthony Taylor, kneel before their Premier League game this week

Of course, change should go further than clubs alone and football administration must keep pace too. I have already agreed with FA Chairman Greg Clarke that our organisation must review the composition of the FA Council, revisit the FA’s lack of BAME executive leadership and ensure that County Football Associations can set the standard for the grassroots game by using the newly agreed diversity provisions of the County Football Association governance code. 

The FA Board is diverse with four women and one BAME director. I attend as an observer in my role as the chair of the FA Inclusion Advisory Board to ensure that diversity and inclusion issues are fully represented at every meeting, however I do not have a vote. We need the Premier League, EFL, Barclays FA Women’s Super League and the National League to step up and provide ethnic diversity at board and executive level too. We need more role models for young BAME people beginning their careers to draw inspiration from.

So, I thank you for your support of Black Lives Matter and for all the excellent anti-discrimination work you already do. Football can and should be very proud of its achievements to date. Through this new initiative we can lead the nation’s response to inequality by ensuring the leadership of football reflects the composition of our country.

This global movement was captured beautifully by the visibility of the diverse next generation of our youth. The multicultural, multiracial makeup of the protesters really embraced what the world looks like today. It is so comforting for people of colour to know they no longer need to feel they are a minority voice and the world is listening and supporting them.

It fills me with huge pride that, for the remainder of the season, teams playing in the Premier League, EFL and the Emirates FA Cup will support the Black Lives Matter campaign.

In asking for your support I would like to recall the words of Martin Luther King Junior: "In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."

Don’t be silent. Football must unite against inequality. Join in and make football and society fair for all.

Football is coming together to ensure this initiative gains genuine traction rather than be another opportunity for making speeches and handwringing. The following people of many ethnicities have put their names to this letter, rather than remain silent, to show their support for action now.

There are many more people across football who I’m sure would like to support us with this initiative, and we hope to make contact with them in the near future. I will be putting together a working group to support me on this journey, as we all have a significant role to play and one where we can action change together.

List of support:
• Greg Clarke, FA chairman
• Mark Bullingham, FA chief executive
• Sanjay Bhandari, Kick It Out
• Bobby Barnes, PFA
• Heather Rabbatts
• Gareth Southgate
• Phil Neville
• Chris Hughton
• Chris Powell
• Gary Lineker
• Alex Scott
• David Pleat
• Graeme Le Saux
• Justin Cochrane
• Liam Rosenior
• Michael Johnson
• Rachel Yankey
• Tyrone Mings
• Robbie Savage
• Lucy Bronze
• Bruce Buck, Chelsea FC
• Steve Parish, Crystal Palace FC
• Ben Robinson, Burton Albion FC

Paul Elliott, CBE

Chair of the FA’s Inclusion & Advisory Board

By Paul Elliott Chair, FA Inclusion Advisory Board