Soccer must build on statements of intent in the fight against racism, and as chair of Kick It Out, I sense a mood that makes this possible.
The turn of the year is traditionally a time for reflection and resolutions. The lockout this year has increased that feeling as we reflect on the 12 months of earthshaking and catch glimmers of hope.
I wrote last Christmas about the need to turn 2020 into a year of soccer teamwork to combat racism and discrimination. What happened then, no one could have predicted. The pandemic of Covid and the death of George Floyd have changed us.
Initially, Covid provided a resurgence of community spirit, symbolized most vividly by the weekly ritual for caregivers to clap. With increasing frustration and individualism, that spirit has frayed over time.
But soccer has always demonstrated true leadership, as evidenced by the ongoing community work of the clubs, exemplified by the outstanding work of Marcus Rashford against childhood food poverty.
George Floyd’s death has taken racial inequality back to the forefront of public discourse.
Again, as players symbolically took a knee and called for action, soccer demonstrated great leadership. 48 clubs have now adopted the Football Leadership Diversity Code, setting targets for hiring coaches and senior staff by gender and ethnicity.
This could be a game changer in the long run.
In 2021 and beyond, what can we expect? As Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr said, “Predictions are very difficult, especially when it comes to the future.”
Soccer does not exist in a vacuum.
It is influenced by broader social and economic trends. These send conflicting signals, but two main themes are likely to dominate as we enter a post-Cold War, post-Brexit world. The end of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic ushered in an era of hedonism in the Roaring 20s, and there are predictions that our current enforced contemplation of mortality could trigger a similar era once the shackles are off. Happier people tend to hate less.
It’s tempting to think that now that Brexit is complete, social divisions will heal.
I tend to see the Brexit as a symptom rather than a cause – it reflected divisions that have been simmering for years. The usual backlash against increasing demands for racial equality has begun – look at some of the reactions to players taking a knee. We’re waiting for more details on the administration’s new equality policy, but the early sounds are disturbingly similar to a dog whistle.
But there is reason to hope that soccer can rise above this noise.
I sense a real mood to walk the talk, and soccer has the opportunity to take a leadership role. We need to focus on three key areas in 2021: using data to monitor change, combating online hate, and focusing on education.
By signing the Football Leadership Diversity Code, soccer has committed to becoming more reflective of society. Over the next few years, we need to help soccer deliver on these commitments with talent programs and hold soccer to these promises using data to monitor progress. We intend to use our partnership with Sky, with its global technological capabilities and broadcast platform, to do our part to do this.
Social media is the battleground of hate.
It is partly a technological problem and partly a behavioral problem, so we will need technological and behavioral solutions. This will need to involve Twitter, Facebook, the government, law enforcement, soccer clubs and governing bodies. The government can do its part by expediting the Online Harms Act, regulating Big Tech, creating a duty of care for social media providers, and establishing rules for transparency.
But we can’t just wait for that to happen. There are things we need to do now.
Clubs and players have a huge following that can be a force for good (just ask Rashford).
But with great power comes great responsibility to be careful. The vicious trolling of Karen Carney was in the febrile tribal culture of social media that quickly