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Greg Clarke’s comments prove – once again – that diversity on the pitch is not reflected off it

I can’t tell you how offensive it was to hear the term “coloured”, especially coming from the chairman of the Football Association, Greg Clarke, who used it while speaking to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee this week. He has since resigned after his comments were roundly condemned.

It is a sad irony that there is so much visible diversity on the pitch, which is not reflected off it, in boardrooms and beyond. Clarke’s comment, in truth, was not surprising.

Leon Mann, founder of the Black Collective of Media in Sport, said: “Diversity at the very top of ALL the authorities in football cannot be a ‘nice to have’. For us to make any real progress, it has to be essential. There are plenty of strong candidates. The game has just been very poor at looking.”

It would have been extraordinary had the FA decided to brush off Clarke’s comment as a slip of the tongue or a mix up of terms, as Clarke claims. It is about setting the tone of an organisation. It starts at the top and flows down. If any change is to come, it has to come from the decision makers. Whoever finds themselves in that position not only has to believe in diversity but actively live it, too – in thought, action and speech.

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Clarke’s comments are a misfit, not only for the FA’s values, but also for British society, which is largely supposed to be inclusive.

The wave of emotions felt in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the US is still sweeping the globe. Almost immediately we saw the protests and social media furore. But most of all we saw businesses fall over themselves to show how supportive of black people they have been – or now intend to be.

But it’s not enough only to have visible diversity. There needs to be diversity in the corridors of power and in the rooms where big decisions are being made. That is how all voices can be heard.

I work primarily in the television industry and even though we are slowly seeing increased diversity on screen, there is still nothing like enough off screen. In his James MacTaggart Memorial Lecture at this year’s Edinburgh TV Festival, Professor David Olusoga called himself a “survivor” of a television industry that is rapidly losing Black talent. He blames the lack of diversity behind the scenes.

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It’s a sorry state of affairs and is too often replicated in other industries. The Financial Times reported in February that a third of FTSE 100 companies would miss their target of having at least one director from an ethnic minority by 2021.

Affirmative action and purpose-driven diversity schemes still sit a little uncomfortably with me, however. I don’t want to be reduced to the colour of my skin. I want to be liked and wanted for who I am. But I understand that they exist because the so-called “normal routes” appear not to be achieving anything. Ethnic minorities are still being excluded. I long for the day where we no longer need such schemes or targeted recruiting. 

Diversity should not be a buzzword. Nor can it a token gesture to shut ethnic minorities up. It actually helps to enrich our businesses, both socially and financially. To me, this is not a political issue. It’s a humanity issue. I don’t care for Left vs Right and certainly not for Black vs White. This is just about how we make our national institutions and business organisations reflect the make up of British society. Why would someone be averse to being inclusive and reflective of as many people as we possible?

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Chorley FC assistant manager Andy Preece said on the YouTube channel The Conv3rsation: “When I go for a manager’s job, how many people who are making the decisions are thinking black people can’t lead and do managers’ jobs?”

It’s a worrying thought that goes through the mind of every black person or anyone who considers themselves a minority.

It is not enough to be paraded in public or on screen as the “token black person”. That is lazy diversity. Based on our skills, qualifications and talents, we need to be considered for power positions, too. Not because ethnic minorities are entitled but because we also want our voices and, ultimately our lives, to be reflected and understood.

No one tells a story better than the ones who lived it. It’s high time we were heard.