Kick It Out chief wants action not tokenism from sport over discrimination

Sport’s leaders must be judged on delivering change to combat discrimination rather than simply enacting plans and initiatives, the chief executive of Kick It Out has said.

Tony Burnett argues in an opinion piece timed to coincide with the United Nations’ Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination that for too long the sports sector has been satisfied to invest in plans designed to bring about change, but that it has ultimately failed to deliver it.

“Success for leaders has become investment rather than change,” he said.

“Tokenism rather than substance. Input rather than outcomes. We are handing out awards and offering pats on the back to leaders for simply trying and then we wonder why progress has not been made and the leaders of today make exactly the same mistakes as those of 20 years ago.

“It is often said that sport mirrors society and at a national level we have seen the debacle of the Met Police once again failing to acknowledge and address racist and misogynistic views amongst officers that reinforces the lack of confidence in policing now common within many communities. An undisputed fact which our government has no appetite to address.

“Politicians of all persuasions have failed on this issue for decades and the failure is one of leadership. As a young man brought up with a union steward as a father, I was encouraged to support the Labour Party, however I look at the Labour Party nowadays and I do not see many people like me in senior positions.

“How can it be that Labour, for decades the so-called party of Black and Asian communities, still does not reflect those communities in its highest positions? Tokenism rather than action, words rather than tangible commitment.

“In any system, change must be driven by leadership. The standards they set are the benchmark for any organisation and too often when it comes to tackling discrimination they have failed.

“They have failed and they have been allowed to fail and the question is why? If we want to drive meaningful change in this area leaders would be held accountable for delivering outcomes.

“A plan is just the transport – it’s not the destination, and yet we continue to reward plans rather than delivery of outcomes when it comes to diversity and equality.

“This is not accidental, it is a strategy of appeasement which seeks to avoid progress and our leaders are culpable for promoting it.

“I fully understand when our football players question the progress that has been made in tackling discrimination because I share their reservations.

“The challenge is really straightforward. It is about leadership and making leaders accountable for driving real change rather than offering token gestures. We have to start focusing on outcomes not just investment.”