Ex-Prime Minister Gordon Brown made an impassioned plea as to how football authorities must continue the fight of ridding racism from football.
Brown was speaking at Kick It Out’s 20th anniversary dinner at Wembley Stadium on Tuesday, where he was among a host of celebrities and former footballers.
Jonathan Metliss, the chair of ‘Support For Charity’, the event organiser, made the opening speech, highlighting how anti-Semitism is prevalent in the game.
Other speakers in front of the near-800 audience included Lord Herman Ouseley, Chair of Kick It Out, Jeffrey Webb, Chair of FIFA’s Anti-Discrimination Taskforce, and a closing address from Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of the African-American Civil Rights Movement leader.
Lord Herman Ouseley, the chair and founder of Kick It Out, thanked the key supporters of the campaign throughout its existence before challenging the football authorities to increase their efforts in the fight against discrimination.
He said: “There is a better regulatory system, clubs, stewards and Police are all working together to make sure it is a safer environment, where people who are misbehaving can be identified and banned, then prosecuted if necessary.
“More importantly we want to get to the point where clubs and the authorities accept responsibility to go to the next level and not just say we are doing these things, getting the banners out and the t-shirts, it is about day-to-day engagement and inclusion.
“We are in a better place now, but there is still work to be done. The important thing is that people are more aware of the issues of discrimination, abuse of others, issues of respect which is being embedded into the next generation coming through.
“I won’t be here in 20 years’ time, running Kick It Out, but realistically in another decade you cannot envisage football still relying on a voluntary organisation to be trying to change the game, when others have the power, the resources and responsibility.”
Brown spoke of the achievements of Kick It Out during its two decades of campaigning, and in a passionate address which captivated the entire audience, also expressed his hope that future generations will keep progressing the efforts of combating prejudice.
“This organisation is a British institution that makes me proud, and I believe makes the people of Britain proud” he said. “Kick It Out remains steadfast to one immovable principle – that people will be judged not by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.
“I believe we can look forward with hope, what I see in young people today is a determination to stand up to racism and discrimination, prejudice and injustice wherever they find it.
“Hope is more than wishful thinking that good things might be done. Hope ls more than optimism that good things can be done. Hope is more than great expectations that good things could be done. Hope is in reality a demand that things that are right must be done and will be done.”
Prior to Brown’s speech, Jonathan Metliss, chair of ‘Support for Charity’, delivered the opening address as he spoke about his long association with Kick It Out and anti-discrimination initiatives, and the continued existence of discrimination in football.
“I have since 1982, been a staunch supporter of anti-discrimination groups,” he said. “What amazes me is that the issue that Kick It Out was formed to address still remains, alive and kicking. It is a sad state of affairs. Kick It Out is, regrettably, in 2014 an essential organisation to combat racism which continues to be one of the ills of our society.”
As the evening progressed, three of the main contributors during the early development of Kick It Out, David Davies, Gordon Taylor and David Dein, took part in a panel discussion hosted by Garth Crooks about the formation and future of the campaign.
The members of the panel were asked by Crooks whether they would support players leaving the field of play if they were subjected to discriminatory abuse – with all of them unequivocally offering their backing to any footballer choosing to take direct action.
Following on from the panel, special and inaugural accolades were awarded posthumously to former West Bromwich Albion winger Laurie Cunningham, and grassroots hero Trevor Hutton, who both made outstanding contributions – and continue to provide great inspiration – in the battle for equality.
Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson, former team-mates of Cunningham, spoke in great detail about the man who helped break down numerous barriers during his career in becoming a legend of the sport before his passing 25 years ago.
In an emotional tribute, Roisin Wood, Director of Kick It Out, then introduced the second award of the evening dedicated to Hutton. His son Tajean collected the award as Trevor was recognised for his great dedication in helping his local community of Brent as a teacher, coach and mentor.
After the awards had been presented, Webb, also chairman of FIFA’s Taskforce Against Racism and Discrimination, then applauded Kick It Out for supporting the diverse communities in England and abroad.
“I congratulate Kick It Out for celebrating 20 years of campaigning for equality in football,” Webb said. “This organisation has facilitated respect among professional clubs, players, fans and communities to tackle all forms of discrimination.
“Two decades ago, Kick It Out had a vision – the vision for football to be a sport where individuals flourish in a supportive community – where fairness is practiced and enforced for the good of the game.”
Finally, Lord Ouseley invited special guest Luther King III, son of the late civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr, onto the stage as he praised the organisation for its work in attempting to stamp discrimination out of football. He also urged people to be proactive if real change is to happen in society.
“As I’ve watched this evening, a lot has come to mind,” he said. “There is not enough to be said to thank this organisation for what it is doing in stamping out racism and discrimination, sexism and homophobia in football.
“We have the ability to do anything – we just have to find the will. When ability and will meet results occur. You can win a victory in your school, in your place of worship and in your football club.
“We live in a world where inclusion is warranted. Both my father and mother dedicated their lives towards eradicating those ‘triple evils’ my dad defined as poverty, racism and violence.
“Obviously we have not achieved those things yet, but change is coming in this nation and in the world. People must stand up against racism. We know what we should do, we know what we must do.”