During the two-day event (10th and 11th of September in Rome) organized by UEFA, with the support of the Fare network and FIFPro, the world players’ union, and hosted by the Italian Football Federation, 250 representatives from within football, political and governmental organizations, experts and Fare member delegates representing NGOs and minority groups met in Rome to find solutions and plan actions against discrimination in football.
For DISCOVER FOOTBALL, Pia Mann participated as a delegate in the conference. In the following interview she talks about Michel Platini, quota for more diversity in leadership positions and dress codes.
What were the main objectives for organizing such conference?
I think it was all about addressing the subjects of respect and diversity, to put it on the agenda again. Another objective was to develop ideas about what UEFA could do about it in the future.
Did they give you some facts and figures about what was achieved in the last 10-20 years?
And did you develop and adopt some agenda for the future?
No, we did not formulate any goals or such thing. It was more an exchange of good practices.
So it was not so much about UEFA presenting how good they already are in the field of diversity?
In his opening speach, Michel Platini put a lot of emphasis on how important the subject is for UEFA. And I think it was not by accident that Karen Espelund participated in the first all-women panel as if saying, “look we have a woman on the ExCo!“ So yes, it was also a platform for UEFA to present itself in a good light.
Picture: Karen Espelund (l.) and Pia Mann with DISCOVER FOOTBALL Declaration
What was the outcome of the first all-women panel?
The first panel was about women and ethnic minorities in football leadership positions. So beside Karen Espelund there was Cecile Kyenge MEP, former Italian Minister for Integration, Heather Rabbatts, English Football Association board member, and Emine Bozkurt, former Dutch MEP. They highlighted that there are a lot of decrepit structures, and that it is a very long way into a leadership position in UEFA because before you arrive there you have to have a career in your national football association. So it was very clear in the debate that the best tool to accomplish more equality in leadership positions is a quota system. Everybody actually agreed on that. However, when I asked during Q&A when the quotas will be implemented in UEFA and who has to be convinced to make that happen, Karen Espelund only smiled.
So what do you think, who HAS to be convinced?
Obviously the white old men in suits, who were sitting in the two first rows of the conference room.
And what did they answer to your question?
Nothing. I don’t know what Michel Platini was doing in that moment, maybe playing with his cell phone, but I don’t see that there will be any quota any time soon.
What other topics were addressed?
There was a players’ panel with former professional players talking about their experiences with racism during football matches. Then there were some lectures presenting best practices in different areas, e.g. a global research project about racism in sport, the work of the Dutch FA to address homophobia and the work of NGOs to tackle the situation of Roma around Europe. The next day, there were several workshops discussing a range of topics including female and ethnic minority representation in leading positions, working with ethnic minorities to bring about change; tackling homophobia in football and promoting the involvement of the LGBT community.
What I noticed was, like almost always when the topic of discrimination is addressed, that different kinds of discrimination were mostly treated separately. Everybody was focusing on a special group. So actually, if you are a female football player you have to decide whether you are discriminated against as a woman OR as part of an ethnic minority OR as a lesbian. The connection between these categories was hardly considered. It seems as if it is really hard to put the concept of intersectionality into practice even at a conference level. Not being able to see the complexity and interdependency between different forms of discrimination like e.g. sexism and homophobia in the act of supporters insulting the opponent team as “pussies” can easily result in a “hierarchy of discrimination” and the question of “what is more important?”. And in fact and not surprisingly, sexism was not one of the top priorities, neither among the UEFA delegates nor in the agenda of the FARE network. For example as usual, at conference, “football” mostly meant “men’s football”, whereas “women’s football” was called this and was thereby marked as the deviation of the male norm.
So I felt that it was quiet important that we, as DISCOVER FOOTBALL, were present in Rome. Me and a representative from les Dégommeuses, a women’s football project from France, always tried to point out that women’s football exists, that homophobia is not the exclusive issue of gay men etc.
So the participation of DISCOVER FOOTBALL was useful for the conference?
Yes and for DISCOVER FOOTBALL it was also a great opportunity to speak out in front of all these important and powerful men and women, to have a chat with Karen Espelund, to network with other NGOs and football projects.
We had this gala dinner and most of the FARE members were kind of nervous because there was a dress code: smart. I first had to google what that meant. For women it said nothing too short, no deep cut, decent make-up and, most interestingly, no visible hair on legs or arm pits. Ok, this was not what the official invitation said, however, female participants were asked to wear a cocktail dress for the dinner. This is reinforcing gender stereotypes no matter how often you repeat the word “diversity” in the conference schedule.
So another result of the conference is that we formed the “queer alliance”, an LGBTIQ subgroup of the FARE network. The first meeting will be on December 13th during the DISCOVER FOOTBALL 5 year anniversary conference in Berlin.