Power of football can tackle issue of discrimination in society, says leading diversity consultant
"People come together because of the power of sport," Dr Rimla Akhtar tells Tackling Racism on Sky Sports News; FA Inclusion Advisory Board Chair Paul Elliott voices support for FA on diversity
By Sky Sports News
Last Updated: 27/03/19 11:17pm
Discrimination is a growing problem in society but can be combatted by the "power of football", according to Dr Rimla Akhtar, the first Muslim woman to sit on the Football Association Council.
In the latest episode of Tackling Racism on Sky Sports News, a panel including Dr Akhtar discussed a number of issues facing the sport, most notably the rise of discrimination in grassroots football.
Recent figures released by the Football Association reveal that reports of discrimination in grassroots football have increased, with religious-based incidents up around 1672 per cent in the last four years.
While diversity consultant Dr Akhtar recognises the issue of discrimination affects society as a whole, she believes football has a major role to play in tackling the problem.
"It is a societal issue that is creeping into football," she told Sky Sports News.
"We're seeing an increase in all forms of discrimination, particularly around race, ethnicity and religion. That for me mirrors what is happening in society.
"That is not to say that football should run away from that. We should use the power of football to change people's mindsets and move society in a positive way.
"We've seen all sort of sports for development programmes across the world where people come together, because of the power of sport, because of people like Raheem [Sterling] who have called this out."
Dr Akhtar added: "In terms of education, it is about that unconscious bias and those people who don't intend to offend but actually do.
"How can we deal with that and how can we support them to broaden their mindsets a little bit more and understand the world we live in? We are all equal."
The FA Inclusion Advisory Board Chair, Paul Elliott, believes the governing body is making progress in its attempts to eradicate racism from the game, while also becoming more diverse.
"The organisation is always looking to evolve," he said. "It is important that the workforce is representative of those that play the game, watch the game and are involved in the game.
"Make no mistake, the FA are on a very interesting, good curve at the moment. Like all these things, there are constant challenges.
"When you're dealing with problems, the most important thing is leadership. I think we've got strong leadership in the organisation.
"We've got a top coming down, bottom coming up. Greg Clarke, I've got a lot of respect for him, Gareth Southgate, an excellent CEO in Martin Glenn.
"There is a focus on this agenda more than any other time that I've known. That has come from the leadership and zero tolerance. The FA genuinely want to make real change, this isn't a PR exercise."
The FA face a potential funding cut from Sport England if 30 per cent of its board members are not female by 2020.
There are no current plans for an equivalent incentive to recruit BAME board members but Director of Sport for Sport England, Phil Smith, believes that could change in the near future.
"There are many forms of discrimination and sport has got be inclusive of all," he said.
"There were some decisions to make when we created a governance code for all the individual governing bodies to meet.
"A decision was taken that a women's target of 30 per cent was required. It has had a dramatic effect on the number of women in boardrooms in sport, I have to say.
"We are now at over 40 per cent. That in itself has led to greater outcomes for women's sport. Bigger crowds, professional contracts, more women playing. It has been a revelation.
"Next time we look at the governance code, maybe we should look at other forms of diversity and see if that's an appropriate target."