BIAS attended the Bee Together event on 4 April at the Novotel Brentford, as part of the Kick It Out Week of Action.
Compered by Kick It Out’s Troy Townshend, the Panel consisted of Thomas Frank, Romaine Sawyers, Liam Rosenior, (former Hull City and Brighton player, here representing the media as a Sky pundit), Marcus Gayle, (who now works for Kick It Out as an ambassador), Chris Paouros, (a Spurs supporter who is co-Chair of their LGBT group, Proud Lillywhites), Anwar Uddin, (the first Bangladeshi footballer to sign a Premier League contract and who now leads on the Fans for Diversity Campaign), and Salma Mahmud, (a recent BBC Young Reporter of the Year who plays for Brentford Women’s team).
The meeting was attended by Brentford’s new CEO John Varney and Chairman Cliff Crown, several other board members, along with between 50 and 100 people representing fans, club partners, the community and the local council amongst others.
There is no doubt that the key speech of the night was made by Thomas Frank who stated unequivocally that he would rather take the Brentford players off the field in response to racist bating, than secure promotion to the Premier League.
But there were other highlights too.
- Salma Mahmud, sixteen years old, was shown playing for Brentford in the short film commissioned by BBC III as a Young Reporter of the Year, explaining her desire to succeed as a Muslim woman in football. Troy Townshend hoped that this would be given as wide an audience as possible.
- The Bee Together film which has been uploaded on the Club website today also received praise, explaining the diverse nature of nationality within the first team, but linked by the common thread of football.
- It was recognised that BIAS’s own Gemma Teale and Beesotted’s Billy Grant had offered help and guidance to nationwide diversity campaigns; indeed Brentford FC was applauded as being ahead of many clubs in their attitude and approach to diversity, particularly with the support offered to the community.
- The club’s current supporters’ diversity ratio was only a fraction compared to the area of Hounslow Council. Commenting on this, Thomas Frank said that there was much to do in attempting to gain a greater number of supporters with different ethnic and racial origin into the new stadium.
- Romaine Sawyers said that it was important to be proactive in addressing diversity issues away from the comfort of the night’s events out in the community.
- Liam Rosenior said that until the media itself was more diverse, then questions such as those highlighted by Raheem Sterling and others (e.g. about the portrayal of stories in different ways between white and black players) would continue.
In conclusion, it was recognised that individuals and fans themselves have to make the changes necessary to improve understanding, not necessarily waiting for the football authorities who have never seen diversity as a top priority.