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Diversity campaign marks success but rising complaints show there is more to do

‘Fans for Diversity’ has inspired more than 50 supporters’ groups to tackle discrimination but more can still be done to make football inclusive.

Football Supporters’ Federation chief executive Kevin Miles has warned the game it cannot be complacent about diversity after police reported a “significant increase” in complaints of discrimination at games this season.

Miles was speaking at an event in Westminster to celebrate the third anniversary of ‘Fans for Diversity’, a joint venture with anti-racism charity Kick It Out to support groups trying to make football more inclusive.

Since 2014, the initiative has helped launch more than 50 new supporters’ groups, such as Bradford’s Bangla Bantams and the Proud Lilywhites at Spurs, and help over 100 events around the country.

Miles said the campaign is an attempt to “celebrate football’s diversity” and show that the “vast majority of fans are part of the solution to discrimination, not the problem”.

But having noted the progress made in his lifetime, Miles said police sources have told the FSF that complaints about issues such as homophobia and racism at games have “significantly increased” in the first half of this season compared to last term.

“There could be a positive reason for that in that people know how to complain now and have faith that something will happen when they do,” he explained.

“But we have to be mindful that it could also just be an increase in the number of incidents.”

The ‘Fans for Diversity’ campaign, which dished out granted to 32 groups last season, is run by the FSF’s diversity manager Anwar Uddin, the former West Ham, Dagenham, Bristol Rovers and Barnet defender.

The first person of Bangladeshi origin to play professional football in England, the 36-year-old described not meeting any British Asians during his long career in the game, including among the referees, coaches and other staff at clubs. But he also very rarely saw anybody like him in the stands, either.

Uddin explained that he had “seen and heard ridiculous things” during his time as a player and his father never saw him play because “he was worried about what might happen”.

Determined to change this, Uddin has thrown himself into his new role and spoke passionately about his work with groups like the Bangla Bantams and Punjabi Rams.

“I went to the mosque near Bradford’s ground and asked them why don’t you go to the games? They told me horrible stories that had just been handed down from generation to generation,” he said.

“They would play football right outside the ground until 1.30, then go in when the fans started to arrive. They would come out and play again when the game was on.

“But now you’ve got this group going home and away, about 60 season tickets, and women in hijabs singing Bradford songs.

“There have been some incidents at games, away fans singing horrible songs, but the Bangla Bantams say, ‘We’ll just sing louder’.”

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