As part of our ongoing commitment to equality and diversity across Chelsea FC, players throughout our Academy were involved in the Equality Inspires initiative at Cobham last week.
An education programme run in conjunction with the Premier League and Kick It Out, the football equality organisation, Equality Inspires is a programme for academy players, staff and parents that explores different areas of discrimination including racism, homophobia and sexism.
Teams from Under-11 to our oldest development squad age group were hosted in workshops delivered by Kick It Out’s head of education Troy Townsend and former Wimbledon forward Marcus Gayle, alongside Chris Gibbons, the club’s equality consultant.
Racism was the subject matter for the younger age groups, who discussed the music played in their dressing rooms and whether some of the the messages of their favourite artists could be perceived as discriminatory in the football environment.
At the older age groups, our youth team and development squad watched a short film called ‘Wonderkid’, depicting the inner turmoil of a gay professional footballer (the film can be watched below). Afterwards, they discussed the story and how they would respond to a similar situation in their dressing room.
‘It’s the first time we’ve shown the film in a football club environment and I think it’s a really positive message to help the players understand what someone might go through in that situation,’ said Townsend.
‘The fact is there have only ever been three openly gay male professional footballers - Justin Fashanu, who committed suicide; Robbie Rogers, who retired to play in the USA; and Thomas Hitzlsperger, who didn’t say anything until he’d retired. There’s a culture behind that in the game and we’re just trying to change that mindset.’
Rhys Chapman, Wonderkid’s writer and director, was invited into the sessions to talk about his motives behind the film and noted afterwards on how eye-opening it was for him to discuss the issues with the young professionals and scholars at Chelsea.
‘It was really good to see Wonderkid used as an educational tool to help Kick It Out deliver their seminar on what is a very difficult subject for many to engage with,' said Chapman. 'It has opened my eyes to how important the film’s message can be in educating young players on these issues. I learned as much at Chelsea about the dressing room environment as I have over the entire four years I have worked on this project.’
Players were asked to have maximum input into the workshops, challenging the presenters as well as being challenged about their own understanding. Such open dialogue provided a platform for healthy debate and thought-provoking learning.
‘These sessions are very important for everyone at the club, whether it’s the players or the people who work here,’ said Gibbons. ‘They help people understand that we are proud to be a diverse club where everybody feels valued, whoever they are and wherever they come from.
‘A lot of players have never explored these issues before and might have their own preconceived ideas about different identities but they don’t get an opportunity to talk about it from an educational perspective. Our players are role models so it’s important for them to accept and celebrate difference and diversity. The fact we are doing this work and having these conversations with household names of the future is fantastic for us as a club and the industry as a whole.’
- Click here for more information on Chelsea FC’s Building Bridges campaign, which promotes equality, celebrates diversity and makes everyone feel valued throughout our club.