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Comment: Drawing a line under racism in football

Comment: Drawing a line under racism in football

By Simone Pound

We still have a lack of Asian footballers – and last year saw some embarrassing racism rows on the pitch – but football has come a long way in a short time.

The Professional Footballers Association (PFA) is a players' union, so we're committed to tackling all forms of discrimination. We've come a long way from the days when minorities, women and children were not included as part of the match day experience. Black players no longer have to endure monkey chants and boos from their own supporters and access for disabled fans is being recognised as a key factor for new stadia.

Working with what used to be called the Commission for Racial Equality, we were instrumental in setting up the first anti-racism organisation in 1993. The anti-discrimination charities Kick It Out, and Show Racism the Red Card work tirelessly using football and footballers as a tool to educate and inspire.

But we have a long way to go. This week's report by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has highlighted the problem of racism in the game. We welcome the report as a strike towards our goal of an inclusive industry that is transparent in its recruitment procedures and inclusive in its opportunities to reach the top of the profession – regardless of colour, religion, gender or sexuality.

The lack of British born Asian players in the Premier League, and under-representation of black players at coaching, management and board room level is disappointing given the proportion of talented Asian boys playing football and the percentage of black players playing across both Leagues (approx 25%). We acknowledge this and will continue our work with the Football Association, League Managers Association and both Football and Premier Leagues to open accessible pathways into the game and across the game's infra-structures to create a diverse work-force, not just on the field of play but across the entire industry. Over 92 different nationalities play in the English Leagues and the climate of acceptance and inclusion is in vast contrast to many other countries across Europe.

The unfortunate player-on-player incidents of last season that highlighted issues around race, language and culture were isolated and embarrassing. The outrage that reverberated both domestically and internationally has sent out a strong message to fans, clubs and players that racist language in any context is unacceptable.

We will continue our work in this field and we will champion our success. We applaud the obligation within every professional footballer’s contract that commits to a minimum of six hours community activities a week, with many players doing over and above this working in their communities. We also have an increasing number of players starting foundations in their own names, creating chances and raising funds and awareness of projects both in this country and overseas. Last season 2011-12 saw over 37,000 player appearances in areas of health, education, social inclusion and equalities including anti-racism programmes.

Football may have a problem with racism but by acknowledging the problem and working towards a solution we are already leagues ahead of many other sports – and in a league of our own internationally.

Simone Pound is senior executive of equality at the professional footballer's association.

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