The UEFA #EqualGame Conference, held last week at Wembley Stadium, reflected on efforts to tackle racism and discrimination in football and championed inclusion and diversity in the game.

The two-day conference was organised jointly by UEFA, the English Football Association and the Fare network, bringing together over 260 delegates.

The conference took its name from the UEFA #EqualGame Campaign launched in 2017 and was the latest in a series of anti-discrimination conferences held since the inaugural event in 2002.

Opening the Conference, UEFA President Aleksander Čeferin outlined his “shame” at the problems which football still faces, and said, “We need to keep doing more,because we must dare to change. We must dare to be different.”

The day began with a panel discussion on women in football leadership.

Anne Rei, General Secretary of the Estonian Football Association, said, “We have to change the mindset - women are the same as men. I really hope in 10-15 years when we are speaking about leadership we don’t speak about ‘women in leadership’ and ‘men in leadership’.”

Other highlights of day one included discussions on disability, human rights, and LGBT+ communities in football.

Jack Rutter, former England and Great Britain Captain, gave a powerful speech on his own personal journey in cerebral palsy football, and the importance of opportunities in disability football.

Jack began his career as a promising young talent at Birmingham City, until he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy following an unprovoked assault. He went on to become one of England and Great Britain’s most decorated players and enjoyed a hugely successful career.

The second day of the conference featured a European cafe-style workshop, that brought together a wide range of stakeholders to share their thoughts and  discuss a range of diversity and equality topics.

CAFE Managing Director Joanna Deagle and Media and Communications Manager Mike Rice led a discussion on the importance of access and inclusion, and ways that stadiums, clubs and national associations can provide a welcoming experience for differently disabled people.

Bjørn Ihler also took to the stage to discuss his experience in surviving the 2011 Norway terror attacks. Bjørn has since become a motivational speaker, and said, “The cure for violent extremism is to figure out a way to build communities in which we celebrate diversity and see each other as different, and learn from that and grow from that.”

Panel discussion at the conferenceThe conference concluded with a ‘Voices from the Pitch’ panel session, featuring Belgium Manager Roberto Martínez, former England international and now coach Rachel Yankey, German referee Bibiana Steinhaus, former Ivory Coast international Yaya Touré, and CONCACAF Development Director Jason Roberts.

The panellists discussed the importance of diversity in football, with Martínez sharing his experience of how football teams benefit from diversity. The Belgium manager discussed the different languages and cultures within the Belgian dressing room, and also spoke of the advantages that a diverse squad can bring.

Steinhaus also emphasised this point, explaining, “I love the diversity of football, and one of the strengths in football is that we have diversity on the field.”

Other panellists too used the opportunity to highlight that football needed to do better in tackling discrimination and racism.

Roberts talked about the ongoing problem of a lack of opportunities for ethnic minorities within the English game. Touré found cause for concern in recent cases of racism and discrimination at football stadiums.

At the close of the conference, the panellists looked to the future and found reasons to be optimistic. Roberts concluded by saying, “I sit here enthusiastic about the future. There’s a lot of work to be done but we’ll get there.”

For more information about the UEFA #EqualGame Conference, please click here.

Published 08/04/2019