A new study has found that the language and terminology used in the football industry about race, can reinforce, rather than eliminate, feelings of marginalisation.
Researchers from Bournemouth University, University of Hertfordshire and the University of Portsmouth carried out interviews with female football coaches from a variety of backgrounds. Their findings, published in International Review for the Sociology of Sport journal, revealed the frustration and distress that can be caused by the BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) acronym.
Although the acronym was seen as preferable to overtly racist terms, the feeling from the coaches was that it caused discomfort and needed a grudging acceptance and ‘thick skin’.
Many of the frustrations stemmed from the fact the acronym failed to reflect who they are as individuals and is used as a collective identity for anyone who is not white.
The researchers say this finding highlights that far from being colour-blind, sport continues to highlight difference and to reinforce racial hierarchies.
Whilst it is common practice for football organisations to make use of positive action measures with an aim of reducing racial inequality, the study found that appointments based on race can reinforce racial power dynamics and leave underlying issues unaddressed.
Some of the coaches in this study spoke of fears about being recruited to ‘make up quotas’ or ‘tick the box’, describing how this could impact on their sense of belonging in a job. The researchers conclude that this reinforces the power base of the dominant groups that usually make these decisions, with access to employment positions and influence still controlled by white males, even when, for all appearances, steps are being taken to address inequalities.
Lead author Dr Keith D. Parry, Head of Sport and Event Management at BU, said:
“Notions of Whiteness remain embedded in football, creating challenges for employees from diverse backgrounds, particularly when they are women. Without either change to the current structures or to the culture of the organisations these issues will persist. Our findings provide another example of the need for work on racial equality in football.”
The study also found that tick boxes asking individuals to identify their ethnicity were a further source of distress. Rather, individuals should be able to describe their heritage and background to reflect the beautiful complexity that is present in a multicultural society.
Co-author Dr Emma Kavanagh, Senior Lecturer in Sports Psychology and Coaching Sciences at BU, added:
“We recommend that the FA reflects on its use of language and recognises that using classification systems and labelling individuals on the basis of their ethnicity can be deeply upsetting. It’s time to reconsider the adoption of the BAME acronym and also the use of ‘tick boxes’ for ethnicity classification purposes”.
You can read more from Dr Parry on the study here.