By Sarwar Alam
FOOTBALL organisations should unite in the fight against racism and discrimination in the game, the new chairman of Kick It Out, Sanjay Bhandari, has said.
He also announced a three-month Strategic Review which he hopes will enable him to understand the role Kick It Out can play in football moving forward.
“Our focus should be on uniting the industry behind a common strategy to kick discrimination out of the game,” said Bhandari, who is only Kick It Out’s second chair after Lord Ouseley, who had served in the role since its inception in 1993.
At his first press conference on Tuesday (12), Bhandari said football has a unique ability to influence social altitudes and effect social change. But he stressed that the only way to do this was through collaboration.
“That spirit of collaboration will be crucial as we challenge the current rise in reports of racist and discriminatory incidents across football,” said Bhandari.
“We need to work together to create more robust and comprehensive data on discrimination, diversity and inclusion reporting in football. Currently, that data is fragmented across clubs, governing bodies, law enforcement and charities. Nobody has a complete picture.
“We need to get people around a table and focus on the current mechanisms we have to prevent, detect and react to incidents. I would therefore invite the key leaders of The FA, Premier League, EFL, the PFA and FSA to participate in such a conversation with urgency. We are happy to convene and coordinate that conversation.
Bhandari described himself as ‘custodian’ in the role as chair and hoped to make significant changes during his tenure at Kick It Out.
Among his goals are – that a black player can play in any stadium and be confident that he will not be abused; supporters wearing a hijab, kippah or turban can attend a game without receiving stares or abuse; and aspiring Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic coaches are confident they will get the same opportunities as their white counterparts.
He added: “On a very personal level, I hope to see something I have been waiting for all of my life: an Asian heritage footballer playing for the England men’s team. Hamza Choudhury – three million of us are all rooting for you!”
As well as being a leader of equality, diversity and inclusion practice for nearly 30 years, Bhandari has also been an avid football fan in that time and recalled how his personal experiences have reflected the changes within the game – thanks to the work of organisations like Kick It Out.
“With today’s society appearing increasingly divided, it can be very easy to forget how far we have come and the progress we have made.,” said Bhandari.
“When I first started following my team home and away 30+ years ago, I did not see so many faces like mine in the crowd. I remember vividly that in the space of four weeks in the mid-90s, I was abused as a “Paki” twice at Wembley Stadium, once when following my club and once when supporting England.
“In those days, I was expected to just accept it as part of the game. This still happens to me today but never with that frequency of 20-30 years ago.
“When I take my nephews to away games, they do not expect to have to tolerate the kind of abuse I experienced routinely. This generation, the Kick It Out Generation, expects better.”
Bhandari is set to meet organisations such as The FA, Premier League, the EFL, PFA, the LMA, the FSA, clubs from across all leagues, non-league, grassroots, charities, business partners, fans, players, club Chairs, CEOs, boards, diversity leaders, coaches, stewards, academy staff, club foundation charities, journalists.
“Football has a unique power to bring people together. We need to come together as a football community to harness that cohesive power. And I believe that Kick It Out has a pivotal role to play in that in the years ahead,” he said.